Historically masculine black sexually has been associated with aggression and dominance as well as being synonymous with having a large sexual organ. Currently in the mainstream hip-hop genre this focal point is prevalent and continuously perpetuated in the everyday lyrics of its artists. As author Ronald L. Jackson II explores in Scripting the Black Masculine Body: Identity, Discourse, and Racial Politics in Popular Media he embracing of what he calls "the hypertext of sexuality(Jackson p.104)" drives the music and media streams of black culture. Although glamorized, the idea of all black men being well-endowed has many negative undertones such as being lustful predators and intellectually inferior. As Jackson concentrates on the "...sexual inscriptions on Black bodies within hip-hop music and..." within pimp films(Jackson p.104), this excerpt inspired me to research another type of script dominating black cinema: black men dressed as black women which is a demasculinization of the infamous sex crazed, well-endowed black male. African Americans not only accept but as Jackson points out, adopts the stereotypes or inscriptions placed on the culture (Jackson p.110). These scripts were "designed to demean or essentialize blackness" (Jackson p.110) yet, the black media streams glorify these negative representations and blacks are simply complicit and in essence shuck and jive for the money and fame. The question becomes, when is enough really enough and will African Americans ever shut down these demeaning, stereotypic images of the culture? It is the representation of black men as the "buck, brute, or thug image" (Jackson p.117) and I contend it is the male-Mammy-in-a-dress image as well that creates the need to transform the essentialized views of blackness in the media. One problem is that black "actors, directors, or producers willingly participate in the perpetuation of stereotypical Black images" (Jackson p.117). As Jackson brilliantly explores the personification of the minstrel brute in pimp films, I want to address the minstrel Mammy as portrayed by black men in movies and on television.
Black men dressing as women in film characterizing a personified black woman
stereotype has been a staple in American cinema and television for some time. There are a few variations of characters that are portrayed by black men in dresses like the poverty stricken, loud speaking neighborhood girl( like Shanaynay on Martin , the Aunt Jemima character (like Big Mama ’ s House by Martin Lawrence) and the Mammy(Madea by Tyler Perry) which are all very popular. "The Mammy portrayed the African-American female slave or domestic servant as being nurturing toward the White family, and idea reinforced by a believe that she put her masters family's needs before her own family's. This image is one of an asexual being, on both physical and emotional levels. Physically, the Mammy is portrayed as in overweight, dark-skinned and woman with very African features "(Stephens/Phillips p.8). The contemporary Mammies are usually still working in a domestic capacity and are loud, asexual, witty and overtly opinionated. One example is in the "sitcom The Jeffersons,where Florence, a maid played by Marla Gibbs, worked for an affluent African American family" (Wikipedia). The infamous black buck transformation into the Mammy character type was not an overnight phenomenon. Although not every black actor has played a woman and are still very successful, namely Denzel Washington, there are more than enough who have to recognize a pattern. While there are many black men trying to break into the movie industry, only a handful are viewed as famous and recognizable. Out of those at least 17 of them have dressed as a woman on camera. Those black actors who have portrayed a woman on film has had great success and seemingly there is a correlation between dressing as a female and success.It first began with Flip Wilson in 1969. "Geraldine Jones was a fictional African American character, the most famous recurring persona of comedian Flip Wilson. Geraldine was played as a sassy Southern woman..." (Wikipedia) much like many of the portrayals done by other actors. Since Flip Wilson there has been Arsenio Hall, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan and most recent Kevin Hart
as well as many more. Nevertheless, the most prevalent mammy character of today is Tyler Perry's representation of Madea.
Madea is a controversial figure in the black community for some find her humorous and others consider the character a negative representation of the black community. For her boisterous attitude and in charge persona, she plays on the negative stereotypes of the black community such as: carrys a gun (and displays it frequently when in trouble), has gone to jail and comes across as rural and unintellectual. Is Madea the 21st century Mammy? Spike Lee, along with other scholarly black men in the field seem to disagree with Madea's antics. Lee described her (Tyler Perry's representation of the character) as using Coonery(Spike Lee. Web). Certainly a few concerned black members of the industry will not stop Madea; proving that a black man wearing a dress on film makes for great entertainment and even greater financial gains. One of Tyler Perry's movies with the portrayal of Madea in A Madea Christmas in December 2013 made $16 million in its first weekend (Clutchreview.web). Ultimately what does black males dressing as women in the media for comedic relief have to do with black sexuality? Historically black sexuality has been masculine, aggressive and focused on dominance through the fantasy of all black men are well-endowed. Although Madea is a woman on film, the reality is, it is Tyler Perry in a dress therefore, can be viewed as the demasculinization of black sexuality. Madea is aggressive, carries a weapon, goes on high speed chases with law enforcement, so in many ways she is the black male brute in women's clothing. "Representations of the black man as unapologetically black, masculine, and powerful-the urban rapper-gangsta as the new black brute cum street thug..."(White p.69) is similar to Madea’s character traits in her movies and plays.To demasculinize black male sexuality and make not only Tyler Perry, but dozens of famous black actors wear a dress for laughs and money, is nothing more than a reverse minstrel show with coons, brutes and the infamous Mammy.
Are Madea Films A Modern Day Minstrel Show?"Clutchreview. N.p., Dec. 2013. Web. 11 Oct. 2015. <www.clutchmagonline.com › 2013/12>.Website
"Freaks, Gold Diggers, Divas, and Dykes: The Sociohistorical Development of Adolescent
African American Women's Sexual Scripts" Diane P. Stephens and Layli D. Phillips Sexuality and Culture Vol. 7, No.! pp. 3-49, 2003
"Geraldine Jones".Wikipedia.free encyclopedia. Wikimedia foundation, inc.29th July 2015. Web.Oct. 11th 2015.
"Mammy".Wikipedia.free encyclopedia. Wikimedia foundation, inc. 25th Sep. 2014. Web.Oct. 11th 2015.
(Excerpts from )Miles White rom Jim Crow to Jay-Z: Race, Rap, and the Performance of Masculinity University of Illinois Press 2011 pp.63-88
(Excerpt from) Ronald L. Jackson II Scripting the Black Masculine Body: Identity, Discourse, and Racial Politics in Popular Media State University of New York Press 2006 pp. 103-126
Spike Lee On Tyler Perry's Movies Shows! Its Coonery. Perf. Spike Lee. Dec.29th 2009. YouTube.