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Tyler Perry: Using Humor to Address Complex Social Issues

Simple: wanting all people to get along and focus on our similarities instead of our differences. Difficult: getting people to understand why it is so hard for some people to unlearn prejudice. I must give credit to Tyler Perry for using humor to address complicated issues such as racism, prejudice, and sexism. There are so many levels to these issues, which is what makes them so complicated at times but you have to start somewhere and this movie (A Madea Christmas) – meant for mainstream audiences- uses humor to open that Pandora’s box.

Humor is used to scratch the surface of the complex levels of prejudice in our society. There is a little boy who gets teased by the other kids just because he is the son of a farmer, whereas most of the other kids are city kids. Within that farmer boys‘ family, it also shows the sexist ways in which his mom is sometimes treated by his dad and the prejudice parents can have towards kids just because they are young.

Although it did an amazing job of showing examples of the different types of cultural clashes that exist- rural vs. urban, men vs. women, parents vs. kids- what I felt was missing from this movie was some kind of compassionate understanding for how difficult the healing process is for people who have been through much more historical and first-hand trauma than other people. I completely agree that prejudice is wrong, no matter whom is doing it to whom. I guess I was just a little bothered by the lack of historical context in the movie. But, as a good friend reminded me, how can we expect studio films targeting a mainstream audience to be full of depth? I still think it’s sad though that we have to lower the standard for films targeting mainstream audiences.


Theatrical film poster

Too often, it seems that victims are being told to “get over it” instead of being given opportunities to truly heal so that the victims can become empowered and do not get stuck in operating from the victim perspective. Given the disastrous consequences that centuries of slavery and colonization caused for thousands of families and many generations thereafter, I think there should be more empathy for how complex and difficult this healing process is for many people. True, we can’t expect every movie-especially one using humor as it’s main tool- to give such in-depth background information. But, we can use our critical thinking skills to use such films as a springboard to spark the respectful and open discussions that are crucial to unify our diverse communities.

There are still ripple effects of oppression to this day; this film definitely showed many ways in which this is true. Much respect to the organizations out there educating young people with the media literacy skills they need in order to be able to read between the lines of mainstream movies. Films sometimes do a mediocre job of providing such historical contexts simply because they are operating within certain restrictions inherent in the film industry. But if you equip yourself with media literacy skills, then you will be able to discern between simple entertainment provided for humor and the deeper message meant as food for your soul.

Kaira Portillo

Kaira Portillo-Espinoza was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. She is grateful for having grown up around such a wide spectrum of diversity, which makes the Bay Area the unique place it is. Her first published book, Poems About This Roller-Coaster Ride Called Life, is a collection of poems she wrote throughout high school and college and explores issues of injustice, resistance, sexuality, and empowerment.

3 thoughts on “Tyler Perry: Using Humor to Address Complex Social Issues

  • GlennKrasner

    The best Tyler Perry movies are the ones where Madea is just comic relief and not the total focus of the story or does not appear at all.  “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”, “I Can Do Bad All By Myself”, “Daddy’s Little Girls”, “Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor”, “For Colored Girls”, the “Why Did I Get Married Movies”, “Madea’s Family Reunion”, “Madea’s Happy Family”, and many others where Perry deals with many sociological issues, such as race, class, sex, marriage, relationships, substance abuse, and the dysfunction that faces all people today, regardless of race, are both excellent and entertaining movies.  Mr. Perry does not get the respect he deserves from other filmmakers and critics, but he is the most successful independent filmmaker in the history of films, and he always does tremendous box office and CD sales.  I won’t see the ones where Madea is the sole, main focus of the movie, because the character of Madea herself cannot carry a movie.  But, I will definitely keep going to all of Mr. Perry’s other very well-done movies.  Glenn in the Bronx, NY..

    • kaira27

      GlennKrasner  for sure, I definitely agree Glenn. My favorite was For Colored Girls. I cried so hard during that film because it really hit home on so many levels. What a powerful film! That film definitely did not get the credit it deserved!

  • GlennKrasner

    Hi, Kaira!  “For Colored Girls Only” was a great movie, and did very well with CD sales.  Tyler Perry dealt with a lot of heavy issues, and it was based on an old stage play from the ’70s, so that might have scared a lot of people off from seeing it.  The actors were also terrific in it, and Janet Jackson gave her greatest screen performance to date in that movie.  I appreciate your input!  Glenn in the Bronx, NY.

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