A Madea Family Funeral (2019)
Written & Directed by Tyler Perry
A Madea Family Funeral was filmed in one week. It was filmed before Boo! 2, which was released in 2017. So this means Tyler Perry shot this movie in seven days and sat on it for two years. One reason he may have done this is that he planned for Funeral to be Madea’s swan song; while she doesn’t die, he wants to kill her off and uses this film to wrap it up. He can’t, though. Once again, on a $20 million budget, this picture earned $70+ million. The curse of Tyler Perry is that this character he created to espouse male-centric life instruction to Black women has become a mask he can’t escape. Perry is trapped as Madea for the foreseeable future and is clearly fuming over this.
Returning to the morality plays that make up most of Perry’s career, the film centers on a Georgia family dealing with an unexpected death when they gathered to celebrate their parent’s 40th wedding anniversary. Madea & Joe’s younger brother Heathrow (also Perry), a paraplegic war vet with a tracheotomy, married into the family, and this provides the window needed for his siblings, plus Aunt Bam and Hattie, to drive down and quip while the family’s secrets are revealed. Of course, this couldn’t just be a story about a family working through the grief of an unexpected death; there are sexual liaisons and skeletons getting drug out of every closet. The bright spot of the whole film is how the family’s matriarch tells her adult children to go fuck themselves and flies off to Vegas with her new beau.
I want to emphasize that despite these movies being absolutely bizarre at many times, I laughed my ass off through most of them. Sometimes those were genuine laughs from the performances of the comedic actors. Other times, these were laughs of pure shock at what Perry was playing out on screen and the absolute insanity of the worldview he was pushing. There is a moment in this movie that is unforgettable and once again features Brian, Perry’s supposed stand-in for himself. As in the Boo films, Brian is now an object of ridicule, especially from his father, Joe.
On the way to the anniversary party, Brian gets pulled over. He’s got all four of our elders riding with him. They begin freaking out over the officer while Brian assures them everything is fine. The exchange with the cop features the officer becoming loud and aggressive for no good reason. It’s clear the officer is bad and racist. He runs Brian’s license and suddenly changes his tune when he returns the card. Madea is insistent that it’s because Brian is a lawyer. Brian has had a change of heart and is incensed by how the officer spoke to him. He wants to get out of his car to talk to the cop, but by that time, the vehicle is peeling away, leaving Brian on the side of the road with his anger. This whole sequence is played for laughs, a parody of the type of police stops that often result in brutalized or dead Black people. I still do not understand what Perry was going for with this scene. I do not know where the humor was supposed to come from or from whose perspective Perry wanted us to see the scene. It is a commentary on a significant issue that is so incoherent that it’s hard to determine its point.
The biggest offensive of the movie is Perry’s full-on hatred for Madea exploding from Joe in this movie. Every scene with the two characters includes Joe telling other characters things like, “You know that’s a dude in a dress,” or talking about Madea having testicles. It’s presented as if Madea has tricked the world into seeing her as a woman, while Joe is aware she is a man in drag. Her being a man in drag is viewed as deceitful and trickery by Joe. There’s another joke about a man wearing jeans so tight that it must mean he’s a homosexual. Perry has decided to just bulldoze through his movies with the most toxic elements of masculinity. But, as we see with the surprisingly liberating scene with the family matriarch, I don’t know what Perry is trying to say about anything.
Perry was, at one point, a person with something to say. Not all of the Madea films are utter disasters; there are some real comedic sensibilities at work, especially in Big Happy Family. However, we can’t forget the church theater tradition these movies came out of at once both focused on themes of community & family but also uses religion to keep non-white communities subservient to white power. I don’t think there is anything wrong with individual people finding solace in faith; if that is where you find peace, and it is not at the cost of denying the truth of yourself, then keep doing it. However, I think there’s something wrong with using religion to make people unquestioningly obey and harm themselves to appease an authority. Perry’s ministry through these films is very harmful. There are also ongoing rumors from Atlanta drag figure Miss Sophia that Perry stole some of his concepts of Madea from her. Stories seem to have been circulating in that city of Perry frequenting drag spots early in his career. If Perry was exploring his sexuality, good for him. That’s a healthy thing. Shame on him if he was merely looking for something he could poach and failed to promote these drag performers.
After Madea’s Homecoming on Netflix was released this year, audiences are left wondering if there will be more. Perry is an incredibly complicated figure. He’s endured many hardships throughout his life, but he’s choosing to use the resources he has now to promote some deeply harmful ideas. There was clearly a passion for something; Perry wouldn’t have devoted his life savings to producing that first play and continued to pursue it even after it bombed if the man did not have the drive to do creative work. The current films are bubbling over with so much anger it leaves me wondering if there is any way he could reorient himself and discard this tired model of filmmaking for something he loves. But money is a powerful drug, and it seems Perry loves it too much.