ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)    


Look for some answers in my next article, "Tyler Perry and the State of the Arts," as I explore

the phenomena of the Chitlin Circuit theater and its relationship to the development

of the arts in the North American African community.  I will also consider some possible reasons

for Perry’s success in the absence of a compelling product. 



Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family

A Review by Ayodele Nzinga, MA, MFA


Friday night I went to see Tyler Perry’s latest work, Madea’s Big Happy Family, at the Paramount.  The sidewalk to the venue was lined with vendors hawking a variety of goods from T-shirts to oils.  Downtown Oakland hummed with an overflow of vehicles and full parking lots as throngs of theatergoers braced the brisk weather to view the spectacle that is Tyler Perry.

The man and his dress were in residence for my first experience of his live work.  Perry is box office magic; the circus has come to Oakland and we are apparently exceedingly glad.  In the midst of approximately 3,000 people, I alone seemed to miss the play that never arrived.  There was no plot, no major conflict, no resolution, and no play.  Perry introduced characters we have seen before doing things we have seen them do before. These characters are for the most part flat, lacking dimension and court stereotypes we confront with distaste in mainstream media.

The strongest element of the evening was the impeccable vocals offered by the cast who are fine singers but barely mediocre actors.  Shouts out also to Perry’s pit band both music and sound were beyond reproach.  The set sizzled; the design was tasteful, dramatic, and creatively functional. The show was not worthy of the set and the music not being consistently integrated into a developing story, stood alone.  A fit analogy would be jewels found by wading through feces.

Again we meet the damaged women, the shy daughter hiding a don’t stop body under old maids rags, the driven bitch who is hiding from past pain, the women who don’t value the men they have emasculated, and a mother so saintly she seems detached from the reality that she didn’t manage to raise one functional human being.  To round out our collection of wounded women we have weed smoking Aunt Bam who acts as a foil for Perry’s Madea. 

Bam, played with spice by Cassie Davis, is the most interesting of the female characters and the only one rounded enough to earn any additional space here.  She is aging less than gracefully but having one hell of a time doing it.  This character offers some depth if you make meaning of her recent adoption of religion after a life of clubs and razors along with her willingness to reinterpret the parts of the bible that might curb her actions.  Bam could be a real person sitting at your table on Thanksgiving, a person with conflicts, a past, and a lively presence.  However, this character is supposed to be a supporting cast member.  Something is wrong if she walks away with the show.  That would be hard to do with Perry onstage.

His entrance garnered him a standing ovation that he basked in before he went into a standup routine engaging audience members still being seated thirty minutes into the show.  You understand in this moment that he can do no wrong.  The audience loves him.  They laugh at his expected comedy, delight in his unrestrained amusement with the writing, and find genius in his frequently announced wanderings from his script.  In truth, his wandering did little to detract from the non-play in progress, and might have been the more interesting part of the evening. 

Men fare no better in Perry’s renderings.  We have a reluctantly reformed thug, a character often described as a little slow (as a result of incest revealed too late to make any difference to the story not being told), two emasculated husbands, a crack head uncle, a doctor who functions as eye candy and is somehow not just flat but a non-character who has no story.

In this roster of misfit men, it is Palmer Williams, Jr. as Monroe the crack head uncle, which catches your attention.  He is the best actor on stage.  When he is present, he manages to galvanize small moments of sensibility in a nonsensical script that goes nowhere.  His timing and comedic ability make him stand out as an actor in this cast of vocalist.

So, if there was no play and few actors in residence what then is the reason for Perry’s successful evening?  And do not doubt for a moment, the evening was a smash for Perry and cast, and they will be smashing all the way to the bank.

Look for some answers in my next article, "Tyler Perry and the State of the Arts," as I explore the phenomena of the Chitlin Circuit theater and its relationship to the development of the arts in the North American African community.  I will also consider some possible reasons for Perry’s success in the absence of a compelling product.  What need does his work fulfill in Black community and what affect does that work have at the end of the day on that community?

What is it that makes 2,999 people of color part with $80.00 a piece in a recession to experience Perry’s particular and peculiar brand of *FUBU Coonery, walk away feeling good?

Meanwhile if you have not parted with your money, pop in an old Madea movie, it does not matter which one, hold on to your chips, it’s all the same.  At least the movies attempt a storyline.

A good read for our future conversation:

  • FUBU, an acronym; For Us By Us.  The name of a Black owned clothing company who marketed to an urban market.
  • Coonery: The performance of stereotypical coon like acts in exchange for personal gain.

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what's in your heart than what's in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America's shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, "Happy can make you money, but money can't make you happy."

*   *   *   *   *

The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music)





posted 8 February 2010




Home  Marvin X    Film Review

Related files:  Duet for The Godfather (Wordslanger)  Blessings Are Due  (Ayodele Nzinga)  Leonard Peltier: Letter to a Relative  Beyond Religion toward Spirituality