Mad about Madea

Tyler Perry has built an empire. So why can’t he catch a break?

  1. I see her hair first, an imposing globe of an Afro. From my perspective, just above her head, I watch enthralled as the top of her ’fro spins while she pirouettes on her way to the stage. Looking like the twenty-first-century love child of Billie Holiday and Angela Davis, she doesn’t just take the stage of the packed Atlanta nightclub, she takes command of it. She is an urban bush woman, her black minidress sliding dangerously off her left shoulder as she opens her mouth wide to belt out the Aretha Franklin classic “Rock Steady.” She roughs up the Queen of Soul’s smooth, finger-popping tune, giving it an intriguing edge. In this singer’s voice, I hear anguish and alcohol, urgency and yearning, and an audacity that is seductive. I want to know her story.

    This is the opening scene of Tyler Perry’s 2009 film I Can Do Bad All by Myself, and it is thrilling. But the fiery promise of this moment gets doused instantly by a quick cut to another woman—one whose silvery wig, oversized plastic...

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