ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

Big Momma's House 2: OR

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"Grandma, What a Big
THONG You Have:"
How the floral print dress makes the man
in the Tyler Perry's Madea films and
Big Momma's House 2
by Dorothy Perkins

With the box office success Big Momma's House 2 and Madea's Family Reunion, one can't help but wonder what it is about dressing up as a big African American grandma that brings out the best in a man? It certainly does something for Lawrence, who displays a knack for both sass and savvy while in his fat suit and housedress making what could have been a minor waste of time into something surprisingly touching and funny.


In 2005 there was another big African American cross-dressing hit, this one a complete surprise, and Christian no less, Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman- which as opposed to Big Momma also melts in plenty of romance and anti-violence messages. The sequel, Madea's Family Reunion, similarly melds raucous humor with family values and the "masculinity in crisis" problem. These last elements are embodied in a touching speech made my Cicely Tyson at the reunion, while standing in front of a sharecropper's shack, with poet Maya Angelou at her side. The message Tyson delivers comes across as a heroic challenge for black males who decide to stick around and raise their children, acknowledging the difficulty of having to be the first generation to turn the tide, without having known fathers of their own to use as role models. With so few African American dads sticking around it's not surprising that the role model these men often need to draw on while growing up is the woman who actually raised them, who showed the fortitude to stand up for family values when no one else would, grandma. 


Thus in the masculinity in crisis context, it suddenly becomes natural that fatherless men would need to act and even dress up like grandma in order to "become" a man, to become "socialized" and worthy of respect and responsibility.  The message in both the Madea films, and Big Mommas House 2 is aimed at the young male who is about to make the courageous sacrifice of giving up his independence and trying to become a good father. And the films are saying "Honey, if grandma is the only man you ever knew, then it's okay to act like grandma."

 I see these fathers time to time on the streets of Brooklyn or the East Village, young black men proudly walking with their sons, and I feel like I am looking at the first astronauts with the guts to take their helmets off on the moon, finding there's air there. God knows the thought of doing the same makes me suffocate instantly. 


So how do you spread the message that there is in fact air on the moon? Martin Lawrence and Tyler Perry do it by saying, "Look, to prove you can do it, I'm gonna dress up like your grandma and tell you there's air there, because you have to listen to grandma."  


The importance of this new grandma "turning out" to be a man is illustrated in Big Momma 2. All through the movie, Big Momma has been astounding the family's absentee/workaholic dad with his/her amazing strength and shrewdness. When the last bad guy is nailed, Martin finally allows himself to be seen by the father without his wig and Big Momma face mask. The father, rather than feeling like he's been hoodwinked, breathes a sigh of relief. The father is, in a sense, "re-masculinized" as now he doesn't have to feel inferior to a an old woman.


For the man this is also dual empowerment. You simply HAVE to listen to Martin when he is Big Momma, it's the equivalent of the "talking stick" in group therapy. It makes him literally and spiritually "bigger;" it ennobles him. I mention here that the dressing up as grandma approach reflects a straight male attitude (as opposed to dressing up as one's own mother) not to disrespect the homosexual male, but because this element is important for the heterosexual masculine voice to feel it can remain distinctly "straight" inside the grandma suit. This isn't about borrowing another gender's sexuality, it's about borrowing that gender's "voice." As good a job as the makeup artists do with Lawrence's latex padding, it is imperative that we always are aware there is a man inside all that woman. There needs to be a very clearly visible line where the man begins and the latex woman ends.


At the same time, we cannot question that Martin is speaking gospel as Big Momma, because since his masculine ego is sublimated in all that rubber, he will not benefit one iota from anything he says; self-seeking has slipped away, been subsumed, the cock has buried itself in the maternal quicksand as a temporary castration/crucifixion on behalf of his fellow man. Thus the big momma suit works as a noble vestment, granting Martin authority as it simultaneously restricts and empowers him.


At the same time, since we know Martin is a MAN, another man can listen to him, learn from him, without appearing emasculated. Big Momma is the portal; the confessional booth from which one exits reborn. Every time Martin steps out of his Big Momma suit he is re-enacting not a birth (stepping out of his mom's skin would make him more of like Norman Bates of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs) but an initiation into adulthood. Stepping out of his grandma's skin makes him 'maler' as he completes the loop of learning between him and his own grandma. His grandma had to step into the role of his father because his father wasn't around. Now in order to become a father himself, he has to first repay the karmic debt and become his grandma.


Interestingly, the thing that really motivates Martin's detective character to don the momm gear is that his own wife is pregnant and attempting to permanently castrate him by trading in his Porsche for an SUV. The conclusion of the film finds him safe at home, big momma stored safely back under the bed. Matin's boughtt his wife her SUV, but he still keeps his Porsche; it might be out on the street, but the man keeps his Porsche. You go, Big Momma, you go. 


pictures c. their studio / content c. acidemic - 2006

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