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?