Killing Time #1: Madea’s Family Reunion

Killing Time is a series devoted to savaging  deconstructing Richard Corliss’ list of the 25 Most Important Movies on Race.

To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve chosen 25 movies to honor the artistry, appeal and determination of African Americans on and behind the screen. The films span nine decades, and reveal a legacy that was tragic before it was triumphant. At first, blacks were invisible; when they were allowed to be seen, it was mostly as derisive comic relief. The 1950s ushered in the age of the noble Negro, in the imposing person of Sidney Poitier — the Jackie Robinson of movies. Only when Hollywood realized that a sizable black audience would pay to see films more reflective of their lives, whether funny, poignant or violent, were they given control of the means of production. Sometimes. The fact remains that of the 25 films here, chosen to cover the widest range of black films, fewer than half were directed by blacks.

Everyone has their opinion on Tyler Perry, including me.

Today, I put that aside and attempted to watch the movie as though I had never seen anything he had ever done.

Let me first say that I will never forgive Richard Corliss for this.  When I committed myself to deconstructing this list, I did so without knowing what was on the list.  It never occured to me that I would be watching this movie.

I don’t have a lot to say about this movie.  I mean, I COULD go chapter and verse on the gory details on just how painful this was to watch, but that isn’t what this is supposed to be about.

The purpose of this exercise is to explore what possessed Mr. Corliss to place this movie on the list.

To quote Mr. Corliss:

Perry’s stuff is loud, sentimental, badgering — a gigantic gallimaufry of broad comedy, primal scream and (in the stage versions) musical numbers. The dramaturgy is part Neil Simon, part Oscar Micheaux that starts as wildly churning comedy, then stops in its tracks for a confession of spousal or child abuse. The music mixes elements of Dreamgirls and the Ebenezer Baptist Church choir; the tone is a violent blend of the earthy and the evangelical. Usually, the supporting players carry the melodrama, and Perry’s Madea — christened Mabel Simmons — shoulders the comedy.

 The movie version of Madea’s Family Reunion has an impressive cast, including Blair Underwood, Lynn Whitfield, Jenifer Lewis, Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou. But you should get the DVD of the original play, both for the hoots and hollers of its live audience and because the shows, unlike the films, are essential musical drama-comedies. It’s when the characters launch into song, which they do seven or eight times a show, that these works sound most authentically black. The songs (by Perry and his musical director, Elvin Ross) are more than serviceable, ranging from R&B to Broadway to flat-out gospel. And some of the singers are extraordinary. For Family Reunion, Terry Phillips and D’Atra Hicks have a powerful reconciliation duet, toward the end of which Hicks pours out one note for 30 secs., escalating the passion and the ache with astonishing precision and intensity. It’s a seriously thrilling stopover in the pop-cultural express train that is Tyler Perry.

As  for me:

I guess If I dig deep into my anecdotal reservoir  of white privilege, I can see the purpose of including a work by Tyler Perry on this list.  Clearly, Mr. Corliss wanted to avoid the wrath of the TP masses that struck Roger Ebert on that fateful day 3 years ago.  

Mr. Corliss dishes out a smattering of backhanded praise in an attempt to justify the presence of this movie on the list.  If anything, I find the inclusion of this movie as opposed to other choices (even Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?) symbolic of Mr. Corliss’ indifference to the actual quality of Black Cinema.

Regardless of the artistic merits, Tyler Perry has built up a track record on a commercial level that few can match.  More importantly, he makes the movies he makes on HIS terms and no one else’s.  We can disagree on the relative merits of what he makes, but there is no questioning that the vision is his own and it flows from his pen to the screen/stage completely unfiltered.

The movie is still a mess, the attempts of the actors and actresses notwithstanding.   Say what you want about any Tyler Perry Movie, he will unleash a torrent of Black talent.  Lynn Whitfield, Lisa Arrindell Anderson, Blair Underwood, were all exceptional, given the quality of script they had to work with.

But I survived it.  And Mrs. Ink did too, although she has submitted an invoice for the 2 hours of her life she will not get back.



  1. Carmen D.

    Hey Inkog, I hope you are feeling fine! “Say what you want about any Tyler Perry Movie, he will unleash a torrent of Black talent.” Absolutely. It’s the same with HBO’s ‘The Wire.’ There is so much under utilized black talent in the artistic world it makes my heart ache. Wanna start a production company?

  2. Jonzee

    Oh, Carmen D! I so want to start a production company and a music distribution company as well. This is just ridiculous. Senator Obama’s campaign has just reawakended in me the fact that grassroots can work–if you work it.

    As for TP. I think he has been genius at the business stuff. I say there is a sneak attack going on. Playing the game. Look at WDIGM. That movie was by far the best he has done. Yes it still had some of his formulaic elements–but it was also better shot, had better dialogue and better substance.

    I’m waiting for the moment he bangs us over the head with pure genius and the majority (and those of us who feel like he needs to step it up as far as movie development is concerned) looks at him like “WTF? Where in dhell did that come from?”

  3. jameil

    ugh. HOT mess. this movie was absolutely part of the reason i asked if that list was a joke. HIDEOUS choices. does he think its okay that a black movie not have a plot? what’s the point of doing a best of list when 95-99% of the movies would never EVER make it on any actual best of list?

  4. anna

    jameil that was a racist ass thing to say maybe you think that way because you didn’t understand te plot it’s about people who have problems in there life but one thing they know is that they can rely on is family because family will always be there no matter what maya angelou said it in the movie dumbass i wish i would have read this when you first posted it i would have been treated you, just face it your mad that a black person is doing better than you because race dosen’t have shit to do with it all movies needs a plot not just an black movie you racist bastard

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