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After 'A Madea Family Funeral,' Tyler Perry Will Hang Up His Madea Wig

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In 2005, Tyler Perry debuted a character whose movies have gone on to make more than $500 million.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN")

MABLEAN EPHRIAM: (As Judge Ephriam) Madea.

TYLER PERRY: (As Madea) How you doing, Judge Mablean? It's good to see - oh, your is pretty, girl. Look at you. You're looking good. How you been?

EPHRIAM: (As Judge Ephriam) You're still at it.

PERRY: (As Madea) This ain't even my fault. What had happened was...

EPHRIAM: (As Judge Ephriam) Save it.

SHAPIRO: That's a clip from "Diary Of A Mad Black Woman," the first of 11 Madea movies. The eleventh drops this weekend, and Tyler Perry, who plays Madea in drag, says this will be the last one in the franchise. It's called "A Madea Family Funeral." Well, to say goodbye and talk about why this character has become such a phenomenon, Lisa France joins us now. She's a senior entertainment writer for CNN Digital. Hi there.

LISA FRANCE: Hey, Ari. How's it going?

SHAPIRO: Good. So I was just browsing Rotten Tomatoes, and "Diary Of A Mad Black Woman" has a 16 percent rating. The most recent Madea film, "Boo 2! A Madea Halloween," has a 5 percent rating, but the franchise has been a huge financial success. How do you explain all of that?

FRANCE: Because people love to hate Madea movies.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) OK.

FRANCE: It's kind of like a black family reunion. Like, you know someone's going to embarrass you, but you also know you're going to have a great time. So I think it's one of those things where people just don't want to admit how much they enjoy Madea films. And even if they really don't like them, they still like to hate-watch them. They make a lot of money. You don't want to be left out of the conversation when somebody is talking about the latest Madea film.

SHAPIRO: What is it about the character that inspires both the love and the hate?

FRANCE: Well, you know, Spike Lee has gone on record as saying that the films are kind of like coonery and buffoonery, as he said, that he feels like it's very stereotypical to have this angry black woman. But for many people, it also reminds you of your grandma or your auntie, you know, those people who say whatever. They use their age to their advantage to be able to, you know, curse you out or let you have it. And it's just a very divisive character because on some levels, it's very historical, but on others, it feels very stereotypical.

SHAPIRO: These films all have certain themes in common. There's often kind of a family narrative, sometimes a moralistic or Christian streak. Sometimes Madea does kind of - almost, like, public service announcements. This clip is from "Madea's Family Reunion."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MADEA'S FAMILY REUNION")

PERRY: (As Madea) When you get tired of a man hitting on you, honey, ain't nothing you can do but cook breakfast for him. Bring him into the kitchen, and get you big old pot of hot grits. And when it starts to boil like lava after he had got good and comfortable, you say good morning. Throw it right on him.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANCE: I mean, right there you have the dichotomy that is Madea - on one hand, incredibly loving, looking out for someone who's being abused but, on the other hand, also violent (laughter). So...

SHAPIRO: Abuse is a frequent topic in a lot of these movies, which seems like a heavy subject to tackle in slapstick humor. What do you think is the value of returning to it again and again in film after film?

FRANCE: I think because it's one way for us to have the discussion and, in a way, try to keep it light. You know, people want to see the reality of life and African-American life and what happens in families, but they also want some levity to it. So I think by using humor, Tyler Perry has been able to open people's eyes and allow people to have the conversation which would otherwise be extremely uncomfortable to have.

SHAPIRO: All right, well, we're talking about this because Tyler Perry says this weekend's movie, "A Madea Family Funeral," will be the last one in the franchise. Do you believe him?

FRANCE: I don't.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANCE: The reason is while he says that he's tired of portraying Madea and he has a new deal with a new studio; he's using that as an opportunity to kind of leave Madea behind, these movies make so much money. And I just feel like it's going to be a Michael Jordan situation. Michael Jordan said that he was going to retire, and that was it. And then Michael Jordan turned right around and came back. So I think there's going to be a sense that at some point, Madea is going to have to come back.

SHAPIRO: OK, so I just want to be clear here. It seems like you're saying Tyler Perry as Madea is the Michael Jordan of film. Do I understand you correctly here?

FRANCE: (Laughter) Are you going to quote me on that, Ari, really?

SHAPIRO: I think you're on the record with that. I think we've got that on tape. America is going to hear you saying that.

FRANCE: I think I'm going to go ahead and stand by that because when he comes back to play again, you'll say Lisa France said it.

SHAPIRO: Lisa France, senior entertainment writer with CNN Digital, thanks a lot.

FRANCE: Thank you so much, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETE JOSEF'S "COLOUR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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