I wonder if African Americans are becoming overly sensitive about a number of topics, most recently Tyler Perry’s wildly successful portrayal of Madea, the strong, sassy, and sensationally funny grandmother figure that has been prevalent in the Atlanta mogul’s stage plays and films. Perry has gotten a massive amount of criticism– and wealth–from the character, and the theory of the feminization of the Black man has come back into play, assuming it ever left.
I personally disagree.
According to the theory, African American men dressed as women is the latest characterization of Black cooning and buffooning thrust on us by the promoters of White supremacy. It is a stereotypical image that counters the much-preferred although battered and bruised image of the strong African American male. For the Anglo-Saxons, “who runs things,” this is an image of the Black male that is palatable and acceptable.
Although there may be a modicum of truth in this scenario, it is a bit heavy, and we put a little too much weight on it.
The Caucasian community did not go into a huge uproar when Hugo Weaving dressed up as a woman in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” or when Tim Curry did it “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” or when Dustin Hoffman did it in “Tootsie,” or when Robin Williams did it in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” or when John Travolta did it in “Hairspray.”
We made a huge fuss about the fact that Wesley Snipes was dressed as a woman in “To Wong Foo,” but how easily we forget that Patrick Swayze was right next to him in drag, as well.
Have such characterizations feminized the White male?
If the situation were strictly a Black issue, it would hold more weight. But as history has shown us, it clearly is not. The numbers of actors that have done roles in drag are endless, with no color lines differentiating them.
Bottom line: it’s comedy. It’s usually funny for any man to be dressed in women’s clothing and men have been doing it since the beginning of theater.
Lest we forget, and aside from the comedic aspect, before women were allowed on stage, male actors played womens roles … that means women’s clothing.
The skits can go overboard at times, but unless something new or outrageous is brought to these parodies, they are more an issue of beating a dead horse, because they’ve been done so many times that they’re just old. But to say that they drastically hurt who we are as a people goes a bit too far.
If anything, I can’t imagine why the main issue isn’t that these characterizations are completely overdone, dramatic, ghetto-fabulous, portrayals of Black women. They could be said to reflect more negatively on women than men, and the question could be, “Is this really how Black men view women?”
Another thing to consider is the fact that nobody is forcing men into these roles. Nobody told Tyler Perry they weren’t going to fund his projects unless he humiliated himself by putting on a dress.
Perry took a character, that even though many Blacks hate to admit it, is a little bit of someone in every family, wrapped it all up into one strangely relatable, surprisingly wise old “lady” that, after all of the shenanigans, you might actually learn a valuable lesson from.