When it comes to one particular critic of his work, Tyler Perry gets downright Madea-val:
“Spike Lee needs to shut the hell up!”
Perry, the uber-successful writer/producer/director (his homegrown films have grossed over $400 million), admits that he’s at the end of his patience with fellow filmmaker Lee, who’s made a habit of sharply criticizing Perry’s depiction of the African-American community and his use of broad-comedy characters including Perry’s signature tough-talking matriarch Madea (played by Perry himself in drag).
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“I'm so sick of hearing about damn Spike Lee,” says Perry, whose latest film “Madea’s Big Happy Family” opens April 22. “Spike can go right to hell and all ya'll can print that. I am sick of him talking about me. I'm sick of him saying, 'This is a coon and buffoon.' I'm sick of talking about him talking about black people going to see movies. This is what he said: 'You vote by what you see' – as if black people don't know what they want to see. I am sick of him. He talked about Whoopi [Goldberg]. He talked about Oprah [Winfrey]. He talked about me. He talked about Clint Eastwood.”
“I'm not tired – I'm done. I'm done,” Perry tells PopcornBiz of the long-simmering feud that’s played out entirely in the media. “What's unfortunate about that is what I wish he had done: if he had an issue with what I was doing, call me. Man to man – let’s have a conversation. Don't go public, talking to people so that every time I'm asked a question I'm asked 'Spike Lee said…' Every time anyone asks me something about what I do it's 'Spike Lee said…' It's really annoying to me, but no, I haven't had a conversation with him. I only called him once to congratulate him once on 'Inside Man' when it opened to tell him what a huge fan I am of his.”
Perry says he’s no longer interested in hashing things out face-to-face with Lee. “There's no need to settle it,” he says. “There's nothing to settle. Why would I put any energy into it? I'm saying what's on my mind, and I'm done with it. I'm done with it. I'm not the guy that he wants to get in the ring with. I'm not that guy.”
The filmmaker also addressed an email he sent out recently to his fans, expressing his appreciation for their support during what he characterized as pointed attacks on his works by several factions. “I was writing about how hard people work to discourage people from seeing my work,” Perry says. “I don't even understand it. There are so many people who walk around saying ‘It's stereotypical,’ and this is where the whole Spike Lee thing comes from, the negativity, that this is Stepin’ Fetchit, this is coonery, this is buffoonery, and they try to get people to get on this bandwagon with them, to get this mob mentality to come against what I'm doing.”
“But what they don't understand is this – and this is what I want to make perfectly clear to everybody, especially black people: I've never seen Jewish people attack ‘Seinfeld’ and say that this is a stereotype. I've never seen Italian people attack 'The Sopranos.’ I've never seen Jewish people complaining about 'Mrs. Doubtfire' or Dustin Hoffman and what they were doing in 'Tootsie.' Never saw it. It's always black people, and this is something that I cannot undo. Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Dubois went through the exact same thing. Langston Hughes said that Zora Neale Hurston – the woman who wrote Their Eyes Are Watching God – was a new version of ‘the darkie’ because she spoke in a Southern dialect and a Southern tone. And I'm sick of it from us. I am sick of it. It comes from us. We don't have to worry about anyone else trying to destroy us or take shots, because we do it to ourselves.”
“Then they go on and say that people of other ethnic groups or white people don't see my movies,” he continues. “That's all a lie. I've said it on stage, looking at thousands of people, thousands of faces, every race represented. I'm tired of it! I'm tired of just laying down. I'm tired of just being nice, letting them say whatever they want to say and however they want to say without people knowing what the attempt really is.”
While Madea’s name appears in many of the titles of his films, Perry’s previously doled the character out in small, strategic doses. Not so in “Big Happy Family.” “I think you can put all the movies together and this is more Madea than any of them combined, because I just wanted to have some fun,” he says. “After 'For Colored Girls' and 'Why Did I Get Married Too' I just wanted to have some fun and really enjoy myself.”
“Telling you the truth, this is born out of me needing a place to release after my mother died,” he says. “I needed somewhere to go and grieve. So I wrote this [as a play] and went on the road with it. Then making it a movie was really easy because a lot of the things that were in the movie some of my family was going through.”
“I needed a place to deal with it, so I shut everything down,” he continues. “I was supposed to do a movie or something – 'Colored Girls,' as a matter of fact. I pushed it and went out on tour, and we did crazy performances and I worked and worked and worked. Nobody prepared me for turning 40 and nobody prepared me for that kind of grief, and the two of them together was a lot to deal with. So I needed this.”
Perry’s about to begin helming and starring his self-penned “Good Deeds” with Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad and Rebecca Romjin, then tackles a rare acting-only job playing the prolific mystery novelist James Patterson’s heroic detective-psychologist in the reboot-minded adaptation of “I, Alex Cross” (Morgan Freeman previously portrayed the character in two films).
“I'm not trying to be Morgan Freeman,” he says. “I know that, because I can't be Morgan Freeman. Morgan is brilliant. I can just do the best Tyler Perry that I can. I'm taking fighting classes. I just bought a Harley. I've dropped 20 pounds. I'm going to drop another 20 pounds and I'm going to do that in preparation for what's going on. It's going to be good!”