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What Would Tyler Perry Do?: Compromised Christian Messages in Madea Goes to Jail

by Ethan Tussey

by Evan Saathoff for IN MEDIA RES

Of the handful of specific cultural signifiers associated with Tyler Perry, his Christianity remains one of the most damning from an outside perspective. People looking for reasons to ignore the filmmaker can stop right there, as Christian preaching draws a line between religious and secular films that few are willing to cross.

But while Tyler Perry avers his Christianity publicly, his films frequently display far muddier views on the topic thanks to the decidedly secular presence of Madea and her role as Perry's cinematic avatar and marquee character. Madea provides Perry's films with their loudest voice, and it's a decidedly anti-church voice at that.

Take this clip from Madea Goes to Jail, for instance. Finding herself in a tough legal spot, Madea cynically uses religion as a means to avoiding jail time. Her enthusiasm lacks sincerity. In fact, it exaggerates the sincerity of religious exhalation into farce. Madea makes fun of Christianity.

This will become more apparent later in the film as Madea dismisses her daughter Cora's “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet as useless. When a rude man cuts them off in traffic, Cora speaks with the offending driver as Jesus would only to earn a sharp “Go to Hell,” to which Madea mockingly responds: “Did you show him your bracelet, Cora?” Then, seemingly just to pour salt on Jesus' wounds, Madea forces Cora to rear-end the driver, crashing him into and destroying a church announcement sign.

This scene would play the same had it been written by Bill Maher. Tyler Perry's films frequently display a lack of message awareness, but regarding Madea Goes to Jail's Christian bona fides, this ignorance is quite pronounced. Tyler Perry would likely respond that, being a character, Madea does not represent his personal views, but as the preeminent figure of authority in Perry's cinematic universe, Madea's opinions remain paramount to those of other characters and therefore represent the most narratively justified views Perry offers. Tyler Perry may tell us one thing, but through Madea, he frequently shows us something else.


Clip from Madea Goes to Jail

Clip from Madea Goes to Jail

from Madea Goes to Jail (2009)
Creator: Tyler Perry
Distributor: Lionsgate
Posted by Ethan Tussey