Barry Saunders

Madea’s woeful Halleluyer chorus sinks serious black cinema – Saunders

Somebody’d better turn up the thermostats in hell, because I am fixing to do what I swore would never be done.

I am apologizing to Tyler Perry.

For years, discerning movie fans have accused the filmmaker of insulting the intelligence of black moviegoers by offering one-dimensional, lame-brained fare that played upon the worst stereotypes while offering the intellectual nourishment of an overcooked chitlin.

Sorry, T.P., because in recent years it’s become obvious that black moviegoers want their intelligence insulted.

How else can one explain that Perry’s Halloween movie was the top-grosser of last weekend and earned $28 million? That’s quadruple what the tremendous, tremendously important movie “The Birth of a Nation” earned its first weekend out.

You know the scariest thing about his spooktacular, “Boo”?

That so many people went to see it while ignoring “Birth.”


Some people think that the past rape charges against “Birth’s” director and star, Nate Parker, left too high a hurdle to climb to patronize his movie. His past caught up with him right after the movie started receiving all kinds of Hollywood hosannas. Parker and his college roommate had been charged with raping a woman in college. Parker was found not guilty, and his roommate – who is also a writer on “Birth” – was found guilty, but later had his conviction overturned.

On top of that, Parker went on TV and became unaccountably obdurate, even combative, during interviews. He wouldn’t apologize, he insisted, because he’d done nothing wrong.

Ah, youth. He’ll learn, one hopes, that just because you didn’t do anything legally wrong doesn’t mean you have nothing for which to apologize, nothing for which to be sorry.

He’ll also learn that Americans love two things: a comeback story and genuine contrition.

It’s understandable if some people hold Parker’s troublesome past against him and use that as an excuse not to see the movie. To most people who offer that excuse, though, I respectfully say “Blow it out yer ear.”

Those same people never stopped supporting R. Kelly despite his well-publicized predilection for underage girls. Besides, if that’s the sole reason for not patronizing “Birth,” what is the reason for ignoring many other movies that dared try to edutain – educate and entertain? None of those directors, to my knowledge, had Parker’s baggage, yet their movies died similarly on the vine, often without even recouping their production costs.

In 1997, when the fine John Singleton historical movie “Rosewood” came out, I wrote about rushing early to the theater the day it opened to ensure getting a good seat. I needn’t have worried: I think there were six people in the theater that Friday night, and the movie earned $13 million over the course of its run. (There were seven when I went to see “Birth,” and three of them were white.)

“Booty Call,” which also came out in 1997, earned more than $20 million.

What does that say about our movie preferences?

Nothing good.

Singleton graciously called me to thank me for the column and to talk about the challenges he faced bringing the flick to fruition. I’ll bet Tyler Perry looked at the lines to “Rosewood,” compared them to the lines to “Booty Call,” and said “Eureka!” or, most likely, “Halleluyer! Hand me that wig and dress.”

As professional people-watchers – some might call us dirty old men – my buddies and I used to go to the mall and sit and watch in wonderment as gussied up women arrived en masse to view Perry’s latest cinematic regurgitation.

How come, I wonder, black women and men didn’t similarly descend upon their local movie house to see “The Birth of a Nation” or, better yet, to make it a “teachable moment” with their children?

Sure, it was a hard movie to watch, but it wasn’t harder than what we went through to get to where we are.

Maybe if some of these foul-mouthed rappers had gone to see “Birth of a Nation,” they’d realize that their beloved “N” word, the one they throw around as though it were a teeth-whitening agent, was often the last word their great, great granddaddy heard as he was strung up to a sturdy oak. And younger black children, upon realizing that it used to be illegal – yes, illegal, against the law – for them to learn to read or write, might become more committed to book learnin’.

You know that H.L. Mencken dictum “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people”?

I’ve got a dictum of my own: “A lot of people went broke over-estimating the intellectual curiosity of black moviegoers.”

Hmm, maybe Parker should have put Nat Turner in a dress and called his movie “Madea Rides the Underground Railroad: Halleluyer!”

Scoff if you want, but I guarantee you it would have made more than $7 million on its opening weekend.

Black moviegoers, y’all created Tyler Perry, so enjoy.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9