Last week, Tyler Perry’s latest Madea installment, “Boo! A Madea Halloween,” swept the box office, even beating out Tom Cruise’s latest action flick, “Jack Reacher.” The film made $27.6 million its opening weekend, and remains at the no. 1 spot in the box office as of Friday.
But the success of “Boo! A Madea Halloween” had some people questioning the moviegoing habits of black audiences, leading to a debate about whether or not black people have an obligation to support black filmmakers and creators. Are you a bad black person if you think Madea is funny? What does it mean if you refuse to watch Madea because you think she’s a bad representation of blackness?
On Tuesday, comedian Lil Duval posted a tweet that instantly went viral, where he called out what he perceived to be a double standard in black support of filmmakers:
But really, what does this actually say about black moviegoers? Duval seemed to imply that black people would rather support the “coonery and buffoonery” (as Spike Lee once described Perry’s films) of Madea than support an important story about Nat Turner’s revolt. But Duval, and those who agree with him, are comparing apples to oranges. It’s like comparing the box office success of a James Cameron movie to the success of the latest Olivier Assayas film. The films attract two very different audiences, and each exists in two very different contexts.
The conspiracy theories about some sort of campaign by black women or racist Hollywood to sabotage Parker’s film have been ridiculous. The success of Perry’s film stood largely because it’s part of a well-established franchise that has made nearly $400 million in America alone. Over the last decade, Perry has built a media empire that includes plays, TV shows and movies that have consistently done well thanks to a loyal, enthusiastic and under-served core fanbase of black churchgoers.
There has to be a more holistic way of viewing black art, culture and consumption. The comparisons between what is important, valid and worthy of praise and what isn’t does nothing but cause further division within the black community, playing on old stereotypes and respectability politics.
The idea that the people who made “Madea” a hit are the same people who failed to do the same for “Birth of a Nation” simply perpetuates the false idea that black people are a monolith. Indeed, 40 percent of the people who saw Perry’s film were Caucasian, Asian and Latino. It is absolutely important for black people as a community to support black filmmakers. The movie “Moonlight,” by Barry Jenkins, stands as a powerful example of what word of mouth can do for a black film. But it’s equally important that we recognize that diversity in entertainment is vital because it offers people of color variety and the ability to make choices based on their tastes, not simply their race.