Who is Madea and Why Did She Go To Jail?

Who is Madea and why did she go to Jail? If you don’t know Madea yet, here’s your chance to join the family.

This is a question that many of my HBS classmates may think when scanning the movie listings this weekend, and I wanted to take some time to provide the answer. Mabel “Madea” Simmons is the creation of entertainment mastermind actor-writer-director-producer Tyler Perry. Perry cross-dresses to play the infamous gun-toting, foul-mouthed, six-and-a-half foot tall grandmother who makes cameos in most of his films. Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail is the latest box office blockbuster adapted from Tyler Perry’s wildly popular plays. Notably, Tyler Perry is the founder and owner of Tyler Perry Studios, which opened on October 4, 2008, and is the first African-American-owned studio in the country. Aimed primarily at African Americans and featuring all-Black casts, Perry’s plays and movies have strong Christian undertones, generous doses of humor, and melodramatic but touching and thought-provoking plot lines. Although Madea is not the main character in any of the films, she ties together the plot as well as ties the films to one another. With Madea Goes to Jail, Perry has produced another crowd-pleaser.

The plot centers on recently-engaged attorney Joshua Hardaway (Derek Luke of Antwone Fisher) and his attempts to rescue his childhood friend-turned-prostitute Candace Washington (Keisha Knight Pulliam, “Rudy” on The Cosby Show). Madea’s incarceration is not the focus of the film. Rather it provides comedic relief to the dramatic events of the rest of the film as well as provides a platform for Madea to mentor her fellow inmates on the importance of resilience and personal responsibility.

There are many places where people could poke holes at Perry’s work. The humor is often buffoonish and stereotypical, successful Black women always seem to be domineering and manipulative, and the pacing of his films can be somewhat confusing. However, Perry’s work has an undeniable goal of delivering moral lessons in a palatable and entertaining form that will reach and impact the widest viewership possible among Black America. What I find impressive is his ability to integrate a multitude of “inside jokes” while still including non-Black viewers on the wild ride that each of his films always promises to be.

The main takeaways of this film for me were the following: (1) It often takes constant work to keep the demons of your past in the graves in which they belong, but people can overcome even the worst of circumstances. (2) Honesty and loyalty are the foundation of romantic relationships, and insufficient honesty and loyalty can erode even the most sacred of bonds. (3) Everyone has to pay for their actions at some point-even the seemingly untouchable Madea.

If Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail is your first Tyler Perry film, you may be confused about the presence of the pot-smoking grandpa with emphysema (Madea’s brother, Joe Baker) or wondering who the bright-spirited man with the horribly unmatched clothes is (Madea’s boyfriend Mr. Brown), but you’ll get to know them throughout the next films which are sure to come. I hope that Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail can serve for most of you as an introduction to one of the most influential players in media and entertainment today, a man whose work simultaneously invokes praises and disdain from the film critics, but is sure to continue making his mark in American entertainment.

*** 3 out of 5 stars

March 9, 2009
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