Tyler Perry’s Madea character has a special spot in pop culture. Love or hate it, Perry’s Madea films helped propel the writer-director into Hollywood and his growing TV empire across networks and streaming platforms.
Over the years his work around box-office hit has been met with controversy, including him playing the gun-wielding grandma. Speaking with T.I. for his ExpediTIously podcast, the director touched on a point Dave Chappelle made over ten years ago about Hollywood demasculating black men by putting them in dresses for profit.
The comments come from Chappelle’s 2006 interview with Oprah Winfrey where he talked about black comedians constantly being put in dresses for laughs. “I see that they put every black man in the movies in a dress at some point in his career,” he said. “I don’t need a dress to be funny.”
History shares its own timeline of black comedians playing female characters. There’s Jamie Foxx as Wanda on In Living Color, Martin Lawrence as Shanaynay and Big Momma in his hit film Big Momma’s House, Eddie Murphy as Rasputia in Norbit and the legendary Fipp Wilson as Geraldine on his 1970s variety show.
Laughs or not, Perry has insisted the decision to morph into Madea was his own.
“Listen, Chappelle is one of the most brilliant people I have ever seen in my life,” he said. “Not just in comedy, but the man is smart. A heavy, brilliant thinker. So, if that is the case in Hollywood, then, okay, that’s the case. But you gotta understand, that’s not my case. Nobody owned that dress but me,” he continued. “Nobody told me—a $2 billion franchise, nobody told me to put it on. Nobody makes me put it on. It was all on stage. Black man owned the whole show, it was my choice.”
Before bringing Madea to the big screen, he created the character for his early plays in Atlanta. After becoming a hit in the late 90s and early aughts his relationship with Lionsgate began.
“I’m not a man who enjoys wearing a dress,” Perry added. “For me, as an actor, it’s a costume. It’s like if somebody goes to work at Walmart, they put on their uniform. For me, that’s putting on a uniform, going out, and making people laugh. Lifting them up. Encouraging them. The good that it does for so many people.”
You can listen to the full interview below.