Scholars take on Madea at Northwestern
Tyler Perry | Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images
‘Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable: Perspectives on the Media of Tyler Perry’
Nov. 28 at Northwestern University, Evanston
“Madea’s Family Reunion” and “The Family That Preys” will screen at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. in Annie May Swift Auditorium, 1920 Campus Drive
Roundtable at 5 p.m. in the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive
Admission is free.
(847) 491-4000 or visit blockmuseum.northwestern.edu
Updated: November 21, 2012 12:12PM
Tyler Perry’s work has tended to be dismissed by critics and scholars.
But despite his enormous popular success, playwright and filmmaker, that’s a trend that appears to be changing.
One clear sign of scholarly interest is “Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable: Perspectives on the Media of Tyler Perry,” a daylong symposium taking place Nov. 28 at Northwestern University. Free screenings of Perry’s “Madea’s Family Reunion” and “The Family That Preys” with post-film discussions are included in the program.
“For years and years, whenever I was teaching about his films, I wasn’t able to find any serious writing about him,” said Radio TV Film/African Studies professor Miriam Petty, who will moderate the roundtable discussion featuring professors from Northwestern and other universities around the country. “But that’s beginning to change very rapidly, though it’s long overdue.”
Petty has been following Perry’s work since her graduate studies days at Emory University in Atlanta, home base for his theatrical, film and TV empire. At that time, the writer/director/producer/star was still devoted exclusively to stage plays rooted in the gospel theater tradition — often performing in his trademark role of Madea, a cantankerous grandmother whose tough talk disguises her devotion to family and her strong moral character.
“His plays were extremely popular at the time and the reason for that is Madea,” Petty said, noting that the character is based on several strong women who defended him during a childhood in which he suffered physical and sexual abuse. “The true center of his popularity is the broad national audience he built by touring with his plays from city to city, seven or eight years before he made his first film.
“He built a devoted fan base by reaching folks who wouldn’t ordinarily go to the theater, but would go to see his shows because they were relevant to their lives. He was talking about subjects such as relationships, domestic abuse and parenting and his plays were relevant with the African-American church.”
Petty said the panel would discuss his connection to the church and its traditions as well as the tradition of gospel stage plays and the ideas about gender, sexuality, class, family, and hidden familial abuse and in Perry’s work, in addition to its aesthetic qualities.
“We can argue about his work on an aesthetic basis, about what his work contributes from a purely cinematic perspective,” she said. “But from a perspective of African-American popular culture, I think it’s a mistake to overlook its significance.”