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Madea's Big Scholarly Roundtable to Examine the Media of Tyler Perry

Northwestern’s Block Cinema and department of radio/TV/film organize panel discussion

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November 14, 2012 | by Judy Moore
A Nov. 28 daylong symposium of film screenings and discussion will explore African-American media mogul Tyler Perry’s work.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A daylong symposium of film screenings and discussion about the work of actor, director, screenwriter, playwright and producer Tyler Perry -- who is known for creating and performing in drag the cantankerous character of Mabel “Madea” Simmons in his feature films -- will be held on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus in late November. 

While the African-American media mogul’s 2012 film “Alex Cross,” about a homicide detective “who is pushed to the brink of moral and physical limits” may have disappointed at the box office, Perry remains a powerful force in Hollywood. Each of the 13 films Perry has produced since 2002 have enjoyed opening weekends with top earnings. The writer-producer-director-actor also continues to produce the wildly popular gospel stage plays that constitute his show business origins, while at the same time overseeing two commercial cable sitcoms.

The Tyler Perry symposium will be hosted by Northwestern’s Block Cinema and the School of Communication’s department of radio/TV/film.

“Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable: Perspectives on the Media of Tyler Perry,” Wednesday, Nov. 28, includes a panel discussion as well as film screenings with moderated conversations. All events take place on the University’s Evanston campus and are free and open to the public.

• “Madea’s Family Reunion” will be screened at 9:30 a.m. and “The Family That Preys” at 1 p.m., at Annie May Swift Auditorium, 1920 Campus Drive.

• The panel discussion on Perry’s work begins at 5 p.m. at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive

“This program marks a turn toward serious academic consideration of Perry’s media that has been a long time in coming, but is nonetheless right on time,” said Miriam Petty, assistant professor of radio/TV/film and African American studies, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the organizer of the symposium and moderator of the panel.

“For someone like me, who is interested in Hollywood film as well as African-American popular culture, the complexities and contradictions inherent in what Perry does and how he does it make his work compelling to discuss, study and think and write about,” said Petty.

Featured panelists will consider Perry’s extensive body of work from a variety of perspectives, exploring such topics as his theatrical roots, the influence of the African- American church on his work, the highbrow/lowbrow tensions his works stir up, and the ways that class, region, gender and sexuality are reflected in his screen and stage productions and in discussions of Perry himself.

Participants include Mark Anthony Neal, professor of black popular culture in the department of African and African American studies, Duke University; Racquel Gates, assistant professor in the department of media culture, CUNY College of Staten Island; Daniel O. Black, novelist and professor of English, Clark-Atlanta University; Brittney Cooper, assistant professor of women's and gender studies and Africana studies, Rutgers University; and E. Patrick Johnson, Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies in the School of Communication and professor of African American Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University.

Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable is co-sponsored by Northwestern University’s Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Block Cinema, the black arts initiative, departments of radio/television/film, African American studies and performance studies, School of Communication, Center for Screen Cultures, Screen Cultures Program and Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Free parking is available during the panel discussion portion of the symposium. For more information, call (847) 491-4000 or visit blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.

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