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Let’s Talk About Black Men In Drag: Are We Laughing With Or At Madea + Drag Race?

From Tyler Perry dragging it up for this month’s latest cross-dressing-fueled Madea release to Martin Lawrence’s unstoppable Big Momma’s House franchise to the only LOGO show worth watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, it appears America is embracing black men dressed as women. But, as No More Downlow asks, are we laughing with these representations? Or at them? And does the answer to that question change based on your own skin color?

“I think it’s easier for white America to embrace a black man in drag,” says actor Johnathan Wallace, who’s appeared in his share of drag films. Perry, in a soundbite from a red carpet, says “I don’t know if there is an infatuation with it.” But is that just his way to scare away possible competitors from the very lucrative black drag film niche that he’s carved out for himself?

Meanwhile, how large are the non-black audiences of Madea and Big Momma’s House? I’ve seen one from each, and both times the theaters were filled with at least 90 percent black men and women. Which anecdotally tells me the movies are, very plainly, targeted at and made for black audiences. RuPaul’s Drag Race, meanwhile, where the focus of the show is less about the host than it is about the contestants, is watched by a number of my non-black friends (though almost all of these folks who watch the show are gay).

But how many folks are watching these shows and movies because they identify with these characters? And how many are watching because it’s a spectacle, and they get to laugh at the silly men in women’s clothes?

[No More Downlow]

By:           JD
On:           Apr 5, 2011
Tagged: , , ,

  • 12 Comments
    • Cam
      Cam

      I’m sorry but if the joke was that Tyler Perry was dressed up in drag, then the joke would have gotten old after about 20 minutes. The fact that the movies have done well and keep spawning sequels show that whether or not Perry dresses up, the movies have found an audience and struck a cord.

      As for White people finding it easier to watch black men in drag….I think thats a pretty ridiculous comment considering that the next few lines seem to point out that the majority of the audience for Tyler Perry movies, at least int he theater are black not white. While movies staring Will Smith, Wesley Snipes, Samuel L. Jackson etc… have had massive white audiences…and except for Too Wong Foo, none of them were in Drag.

      Eddie Murphy had movies with much much larger audiences than “Norbit” whites didn’t have to wait until he put on a dress to “Discover” Murphy.

      Apr 5, 2011 at 2:26 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Charlie
      Charlie

      I’ve only seen Diary of a Mad Black Woman (and watched a few of his plays on YouTube) but I think that most of the audience is rooting for and laughing with the character of Madea. After a while you forget you are watching a person in drag and just have fun with the slapstick and one-liners.

      Apr 5, 2011 at 2:40 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • JJ
      JJ

      interesting that this is posted, I just saw a youtube video with David Chappelle on Oprah discussing this same thing. he refused to do it, despite the director and producers insisting he dressed in drag for a “gag.”

      Apr 5, 2011 at 2:45 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Shannon1981
      Shannon1981

      Rupaul’s Drag Race is aimed at gay audiences, regardless of race. Madea and Big Momma are aimed at black audiences,and the characters that Tyler Perry and Martin Lawrence create with their female audiences are meant to be laughed at, with, or anywhere in between. It isn’t about these two dudes being in drag for them. It is about the comedic personas of Madea and Big Momma. So there is really very little comparison to be made between the reaction/audience to Rupaul’s Drag Race and the Madea/Big Momma style drag. Other than skin color, Rupaul’s schitck has little/nothing in common with Perry and Lawrence and their characters.

      Apr 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Shannon1981
      Shannon1981

      Rupaul’s Drag Race is aimed at gay audiences, regardless of race. Madea and Big Momma are aimed at black audiences,and the characters that Tyler Perry and Martin Lawrence create with their female alter egos are meant to be laughed at, with, or anywhere in between. It isn’t about these two dudes being in drag for them. It is about the comedic personas of Madea and Big Momma. So there is really very little comparison to be made between the reaction/audience to Rupaul’s Drag Race and those of the Madea/Big Momma style drag. Other than skin color, Rupaul’s schitck has little/nothing in common with Perry and Lawrence and their characters.

      Apr 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Shannon1981
      Shannon1981

      oops didn’t realize the first one went through.

      Apr 5, 2011 at 3:13 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Zeus
      Zeus

      I’m not laughing with or at Madea…

      Apr 5, 2011 at 3:25 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • DJ
      DJ

      I don’t know but I LOVE Madea. She’s so fucking funny. The drag really has nothing to do with it. I look at Madea as her own person. Not as a man dressed in a womens suit. Madea is actually modeled after a real person anyway.

      Apr 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Brandon H
      Brandon H

      Pfft, no one laughs AT a drag queen unless she tells you to. The few drag performances I have been to have all been a very supportive audience who was just there to follow along how ever the queen saw fit. Drag, including Drag Race, isn’t about “Oh look, a man in a dress”, its about the performance, the look, the attitude. Tyler Perry is all about a man in a dress har de har har.

      Apr 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Darling Nikki
      Darling Nikki

      Tyler Perry engages in a religious minstrel show that demonizes men most especially.
      As for Martin Lawrence, doing drag has truly done wonders to his career…thus why he’s doing a third installation of this “undercover” cop nonsense.
      They’re drag artists in the mold of Al Jolson in the Jazz Singer.

      Apr 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • jacknasty
      jacknasty

      I think Tyler Perry movies are just terrible, but I don’t find Madea herself offensive. It really is just a man playing a woman, where as things like Norbit and Big Mama’s house the point is to laugh at the man dressed as a woman

      Apr 7, 2011 at 5:51 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tom
      Tom

      Tyler Perry becomes Madea. We are not watching a man in a dress but a character that comes to life when Tyler Perry puts on Madea’s costumes. Madea is brutal and funny and brutally funny, but Madea gets her message across. If Madea had to direct a choir and the only thing she had for conducting was that piece in her purse, she would use it and conduct to the best of her ability. She is an archetypical Black woman who uses the gifts she possesses to do what has to be done and, actually, she is not necessarily even that Black in her determination to do what has to be done. She is every woman who has faced hardship and faced it down to care for her loved ones. I don’t feel that Madea is a cheap, one dimensional character created for drag humor.

      Apr 7, 2011 at 6:31 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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