Ghosts? Goblins? Things that go bump in the night? They’re no match for a mad black woman.
That’s right—Madea’s back. And if there’s one thing that we’ve learned from the dozen or so movies she’s appeared in, she doesn’t scare easily.
Oh, sure, she fears the police—but what woman with so many outstanding warrants wouldn’t be a little wary of the po-po? She’s shown a certain reluctance to go to church—but maybe that’s prudent, considering the threat of errant lightning. But should a vampire try to stick his fangs in Madea’s ample neck, he’ll spend the next few months sipping hemoglobin through a straw. And she sure isn’t scared of any smart-mouthed teen.
That’s because Brian, Madea’s soft-spoken nephew, is raising just such a truculent teenager. Tiffany’s her name, and, at 17, she’s perfected the dismissive eye roll. She feels like she knows all the world’s secrets and is ready to make her own decisions. So what if her father doesn’t want her sneaking off to a nearby frat house for a wild Halloween party with her friends? If Tiffany wants to do it, Tiffany will see it done.
Brian, divorced now and raising two kids by himself, is at the end of his parental tether. He can’t stand guard on Halloween. He tries to get Tiffany to spend the evening at her mother’s house, but the teen balks at that idea. As a last resort, Brian phones Madea and asks her to make sure that Tiffany stays put. Madea agrees (once Brian offers to pay her) and brings her posse to help: Aunt Bam, who smokes more marijuana than Seth Rogen; Hattie, a shortish woman with a speech impediment; and her oafish brother, Joe.
But Tiffany—with her own reluctant friend, Aday, in tow—refuses to be cowed by this geriatric cartel. There’s a party to go to, after all, and go she will. So she decides to spin a story of how the family home’s ghost, Mr. Wilson, comes out to play every Halloween—always looking for new souls to add to his collection. There’s only one sure way to survive the evening, Tiffany says: to lock yourself in a bedroom and just stay put.
Bam and Hattie are inclined to believe Tiffany. Joe’s just too stoned to care. But Madea knows a thing or two about sneaky kids. When she opens up Tiffany’s bedroom door and finds the room empty, she’s not surprised, and she’s certainly not scared. The child went to the party, Madea knows. There’s nothing for it but to go to the frat bash herself.
And soon everyone learns that, to paraphrase Franklin D. Roosevelt, there is nothing to fear … but Madea herself.
If you’re familiar with Tyler Perry’s Madea character, you know she’s no role model. But if folks listened to what she said more often (while ignoring nearly everything she does), they might be better for it.
Madea believes that folks should be strong. Self-reliant. Unfailingly courteous to old people. And she’ll try to instill those traits in those around her, even if she has to beat them to the point of death to do it. In Boo! A Madea Halloween, she, Hattie and Bam encourage Tiffany to recant of her whiny teenage ways.
She also spurs Brian to act more like a dad. Brian admits that he’s read parents should be their kids’ friends. Madea has no respect for such nonsense: Kids don’t need their parents to be friends, she says; they need parents. And that means that parents sometimes have to put their foot down and dole out punishment—sometimes harsh punishment—if need be.
[Spoiler Warning] Madea and Co. then turn on the still disobedient Tiffany, pulling clothes out of her closet and telling her that if she’s not going to obey her pops, she might as well be on her way. They tell her that everything she “owns” was pretty much paid for by Brian, and thus not really hers. Brian joins in the packing, reinforcing the well-worn notion that if Tiffany’s going to live in Dad’s house, she’ll have to listen and obey the dad who pays for it.
While folks might quibble with the threat of throwing a 17-year-old girl out on the street, the lesson underneath this demonstration of tough love is a valuable one. Madea also tells Tiffany it’s important to cut her parents some slack, too. “They are not God,” she says. “They’re parents,” and thus prone to mistakes of their own.
Aday, Tiffany’s friend, is a pastor’s kid. She talks about how her family doesn’t typically celebrate Halloween, but they do have a celebration over at the church. Last year, she says, she dressed up as the Holy Ghost.
Apparent zombies chase Madea into a church, where she meets Aday’s mom and dad. “Help me, Jesus!” Madea shouts repeatedly as she barrels down the aisle. Aday’s mother tells Madea that she’ll be fine if she just accepts Jesus into her heart as Savior and confesses her sin. Madea agrees to the first part, but declines the “confession” aspect of salvation for now: She doesn’t think that the congregants (or perhaps even the walls of the church itself) would be able to deal with hearing all of her sins. She does wind up getting “saved,” but when she hears that the zombies outside were actually frat members, she immediately starts backsliding. Madea longs to curse inside the church and shouts, “Cussing demon, I bind you!” She plots her revenge against the frat. And when the pastor reminds her about Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek,” Madea says she aims to kick some cheeks Jesus didn’t have in mind. She finally leaves the church and the frustrated pastor, saying that sometimes salvation just doesn’t take.
We hear many references to God, Jesus and church. Aunt Bam, Hattie, Madea and others often implore God for help, with Bam suggesting several times that a little prayer wouldn’t go amiss (especially when they’re all being attacked by supernatural entities). A Jack-o-Lantern outside Bam’s house is carved with “I (heart) Jesus,” though Madea wonders why Bam is giving candy to “heathens.” Madea claims she had all the lights on in her bedroom because she was reading the Bible. When asked where that Bible is, she says, “On the table in my heart.”
There are references to demons and devils, too. Tiffany trots out a “game” designed to contact the dead (obviously a knock-off Ouija board), which Madea insists should be put away immediately. “Keep playing with the devil,” she tells Tiffany, “He gonna show up.” She also talks about how voodoo was “everywhere” in her hometown of New Orleans.
Brian doesn’t want Tiffany to go to the party for obvious reasons. “Those boys wants just one thing,” he tells Tiffany. (When her younger brother asks what that is, Brian lies, saying “to pay their student loans.”) Tiffany doesn’t care. She wants to keep pace with a couple of popular, risqué friends who wear crop tops that show, as Aday says, “what the good Lord gave them.” Aday goes to the party dressed fairly modestly, but the other three do not—wearing outfits that display lots of cleavage and leg. One of the girls, Leah, wears a thong over some rear-embracing leggings, and she spends a good portion of the party (that we see, at least) twerking and giggling as she waves her backside to the camera.
Guys usher Aday and Tiffany into private bedrooms, with the suggestion that they’ll be able to get more intimate there. The couples never kiss or make physical contact. When the frat brothers learn that both are just 17, they recoil in horror and kick the kids out of the party. (Their friends, Leah and Rain, lie about their ages.)
Madea exposes her breasts to frat brothers (though her shirt hides them from the camera) and encourages them to touch them. They do, and when they realize they’re “real,” the young men are horrified. Madea makes references to her younger days when she was a stripper. When she begins dancing against her will to the music, she says it’s her “inner whore” coming out. Rain and Leah dance sultrily together for a second or two in the background. Joe makes references, some with gestures, to masturbation, prostitution, group sex and oral sex.
People ogle each other and make crude comments on how they’d like to see various bits uncovered. Revelers wear revealing outfits. Criminals being taken to prison crudely come on to same-sex characters, much to those characters’ discomfort.
Tyler Perry, Madea’s creator, plays Madea himself, of course: There are a few winking references to how “manlike” Madea is. (Joe, for instance, suggests that Madea may actually have a prostate hidden somewhere under the dress.)
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A body is found in the frat house, its throat sliced open and blood dribbling down the front. There’s a huge fracas on a bus, where several people fight.
When it comes to scary situations, Madea’s fight-or-flight reflexes are predominantly set on “fight.” She punches apparently evil clowns in the face. (Joe knocks one out with a cane.) She hits a frat guy or two, as well.
Both Madea and Joe regularly laud the effectiveness of corporeal punishment, encouraging Brian to beat some sense into his daughter. (Aunt Bam and Hattie also affirm physical violence against wayward kids.) They remind Brian that they often gave him “love taps,” and that they never hurt him. Brian remembers some of those “taps” a bit differently: They recall the time when Madea beat him so badly that it necessitated a trip to the emergency room. “But,” she adds, “I’d at least take you to the hospital.” Joe, Brian’s father, would do no such thing: One day Joe apparently pushed Brian off a roof, and somehow his scrotum got skewered by a pencil.
Brian reminds his elders that this is a different time—that people can be arrested for those supposed “love taps” these days. But later, he suggests he’s willing to go to jail if launching into a little corporeal punishment would help his daughter.
CRUDE OR PROFANE LANGUAGE
We hear about 20 uses of the s-word and four or five of the n-word. (Brian scolds Joe for using that sort of language in Brian’s house.) God’s name is misused once, while “Lord” is used a half-dozen times in contexts that could be heard either as profane exclamations or spontaneous prayers. Milder profanities are hurled with the sort of rapidity one would expect from a particularly profane Gatlin gun: “H—” is used upwards of 120 times, and “d–n” another 75 times. We also hear “a–,” “p-ss” and “b–ch.”
DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT
Joe and Bam both use marijuana, complaining when various apparent ghoulies interrupt their high. Joe is shown smoking a joint. Whenever someone discusses or questions Bam’s pot habit, she reaches inside her dress and whips out her medicinal marijuana card. She brandishes it in front of police officers, bragging that she’s completely legal. (She also complains about getting the “munchies.”) Police find marijuana in the frat house. Madea and others light and smoke cigarettes.
OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS
Bam’s bathroom habits are a source of conversation. Madea reminds her that she wets herself a little when she gets scared (prompting Bam, who was startled in her front yard, to walk into her home to change her underwear). But later, she complains of her inability to urinate more than just a couple of drops at a time. When she learns that Brian’s own privates had a literal run-in with a pencil, she suggests with a giggle that he must have a more difficult time than she does.
Frat guys apparently vomit after touching Madea’s breasts. Aunt Bam steals candy from trick-or-treaters. Tiffany spends a lot of the movie talking back, disrespecting and disobeying her father.
Ah, Madea. Love her or hate her, there’s no one quite like her. I think a lot of people like Madea for the same reason that people like Old West gunslingers or shoot-first detectives. Madea represents a kind of no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners justice. She’ll get folks to act “right” even if she has to beat them to do it.
But the very thing that makes her attractive also makes her, and her movies, so problematic. Madea demands respect, but she doesn’t give it. She believes that the Golden Rule, that “doing unto others,” is a great thing as long as it’s others that are doing it.
Now, I know that Madea herself would never hold herself up as a role model. She’s a comic character, oversized and exaggerated in every way. We’re not supposed to view her as a blameless saint.
But just because we know who she is doesn’t excuse all that she and her cohorts do. All that cursing, sexual innuendo and drug use doesn’t disappear just because we’re not supposed to take it seriously.