People say Tyler Perry’s films are formulaic, his films are sexist, and his films revolve around weak women relying on men and the church to save them. Well, I am not an expert on Tyler Perry films—I’ve only seen Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Why Did I Get Married?– but I am a feminist and I was not offended by I Can Do Bad All By Myself. I have not seen all the Madea films because that caricature just turns me off. I saw a Friday matinee of I Can Do Bad All By Myself in Boston. The audience was composed of mostly African-American women. I didn’t see any men and am almost positive I was the only white woman in the crowd. I’m not surprised. I’ve read that Tyler Perry’s demographic is African-American women over 30.
In her article “Tyler Perry’s Gender Problem” in The Nation, Courtney Young wrote: “Though Perry repeatedly references his admiration for and allegiance to African-American women as a foundation of his work, his portrayal of women of color undermines the complexity of their experience through his reductionist approach to the characters and his dependence on disquieting gender politics. Perry may see himself as crating modern-day fairy tales for black women, but what he may not realize is that fairy tales, in general, have never been kind to women.“
I agree with Young about women and fairy tales. There rarely is a happily ever after if you look beyond the sparkles, roses, and gowns. I disagree that I Can Do Bad All By Myself is an example of a fairy tale masquerading as another Tyler Perry film. It’s moving and effective. It focuses on a singer who is in a really bad place [and can’t at least a few people relate to this? I certainly could and so could apparently more than a few vocal audience members].
April [Taraji P. Henson], a nightclub singer, has fallen into a comfortable lifestyle with her abusive married boyfriend [Brian J. White] who supplements her income. She’s unmotivated to make life changes; she’s rather selfish and isolated from family and friends. Okay, so the woman needs much better self-esteem. It will either come to her or it won’t. She will realize that she herself can do it on her own at some point or she will self-destruct because the way she downs alcohol she is on her way down that road. Madea [Tyler Perry] catches 16-year-old Jennifer [a very talented Hope Wilson] and her two brothers breaking into her home, she brings them to the house of their Aunt April, who is not happy to see them. April soon finds out that her mother has died and these kids have no one else.
Yes, there’s another man in the picture: a cute handyman named Sandino [CSI Miami’s Adam Rodriguez] but he’s not there to sweep her off her feet. He’s just perhaps going to nudge her along a bit. He’s wonderful with children and has that easy-going, Zen nature. To think that she will improve her life solely due to the influences of a man is completely insulting to audiences. Relationships can help augment someone’s life but for anyone to think that April would not have decided what to do with her niece and nephews on her own time without meeting Sandino is downright insulting to April. She’s a strong woman who’s made some mistakes in the past. Henson is bold, and emotional in every scene. She acts with her eyes. Those wide, brown eyes are the windows into every emotion April feels. It works and she turns in a commanding, near tear-jerking performance in I Can Do Bad All By Myself. That Madea shows up ended up being okay because her scenes were few and far between and remarkably toned down. There was just enough Madea to provide comic relief from the seriousness at hand and not enough to engulf the audience in her absurdity.