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