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Readers react to 'Mad Black Woman'

Dear Mr. Ebert:

I am an African-American man, and I've spent most of my life experiencing and fighting Racism. Racism in the mass media is particularly deadly and insidious. With that said, I must say that this current controversy over your review of this one film is ridiculous and encouraging at the same time.

It is absurd to accuse you or anyone of being "a racist," simply because you didn't like one film you considered to be flawed. The problems with the film that you've stated sound perfectly valid. And even as a Black man truly interested in Black and African history, I'm not convinced that you should have to have an intimate knowledge of our community in order to appreciate any Black film. You may get more inside jokes, but I wonder how much that should go toward determining whether you feel its a good film or not.

If you didn't like the movie, you didn't like the movie. How did your opinion harm the Black community? I didn't see you state your opinion in a way that disrespected our community or people. I don't get the impression your opinion harmed the box office receipts, since it took in around $22 Million last weekend.

It annoys and troubles me that SOME members of my community choose this situation to finally wake up and speak up about. The mass media spits in the faces of Black people every day, with racist news coverage... manipulative imagery in commercials... extremely negative and stereotypical lyrics in music... and both blatant and subtle racist images and messages in an endless stream of motion pictures and televisions programs. Yet NOW, masses of people decide to speak out, because they didn't like your review.

While this controversy is pathetic on one level, it does at least show that there's a segment of the Black population in Chicago that is willing to speak up about SOMETHING. Now we need those who complained to look within themselves, and learn a little more about Critical Thinking, so we can complain when someone actually DOES spit in our faces. It happens every day, and only the same handful of my fellow activists ever say a word. We need the defenders of Tyler Perry to pay more attention to the REAL media racism that gets heaped upon us every day, and do something about THAT.

Frank Stevenson, Chicago, IL

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I cannot believe you were called a racist for not liking "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and its star, Madea. I am a 24-year-old black woman whom has never seen a Tyler Perry play because I am so not interested in watching a man parade around stage portraying some ghetto granny. Some may be amused by that type of humor but I find it simple-minded.

I guess I'm writing this letter to you because I get so embarrassed when some black people throw the term "racist" around so casually. Then we're looked at as a bunch of whiny brats who cry racism over the most petty things.

I can remember when you did a review of "Boyz N the Hood" years ago, giving it four stars, I believe. I can remember that so well because, as a naive teen, I was amazed that an older, white guy could appreciate and understand a lifestyle not his own. Ever since then, your reviews have been the only critiques I read. You don't need me to tell you this, but screw the haters who jumped you over Madea. I may be black, female and from the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, but I too cannot stand that character. Angela Hobbs Chicago, IL

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I just wanted to educate you on the man Tyler Perry. Mr. Perry has been around for a long time. It's no one's fault that you feel like you can't have an open mind about different things such as Black plays and movies. Mr. Perry has written and directed many plays and all have been successful, including the new installment "Madea Goes to Jail" that will make millions. Mr. Perry teaches you about life in a way everybody can relate. So before you try to criticize all his hard work, why don't you try attending one of his plays. In case you don't know "Madea Goes to Jail" starts March 8th at the Arie Crown Theatre. If you're not scared of all us black folks. Stefanie Kellom Chicago, IL

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I just wanted you know that your review confirmed what I had believed about the movie "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." I saw a preview of the movie a few weeks ago in downstate Illinois. The first thing that I thought while watching the preview was that the movie was going to be of questionable quality the minute the Madea character appeared on the screen I was thinking -- is this a comedy or a drama?

As a black female, I know that some people 'don't get it' -- when it comes to race. But 'you' are not one of those people and the review is not racist. It looked like a lousy movie with a lousy actor playing a Grandma in Drag. I said the same thing about "White Chicks."

Good black movies exist -- like "Monster's Ball" -- that some parts of the black population resisted due to angry feeling over the interracial storyline. I have friends to this day that still refuse to watch "The Color Purple" because Steven Spielberg was the director.

People will continue to see this movie because the play was popular and Mr.Perry has a rags to riches story that resonates in the community. It also doesn't hurt that he is connected to T.D. Jakes and many churches promoted the movie as something that a 'Christian should see.'

We have a long way to go before we realistically deal with race in this country. If folks really really want to get angry over something, they should spend their time working on issues that are troublesome in our community.

Jenn Scott-Heron IL

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Before your critics review Black Films, make sure they do their research. How can they say something is not true, just because it doesn't fit into their White world. We, as African Americans do have a culture in this country (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but a culture all the same), and “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” captures very real issues in our community.

Everyone at the theatre that I went to knew exactly what was going on and could relate. I can't relate to many White movies I see. I feel that they are "White people being White," but, at the same time, I am not trying to critique their actions. Madea is a very real person. If you have the opportunity, please go to a Black community and tell someone to take you to Madea, and I bet they will begin to lead you to her. Older Black Women tend to be much stronger than their weak white counter part. The grandmother you know with the hump back is not the one I saw growing up. Trust and believe that Madea does have a gun and she will shoot you if you get out of line. White people are so fascinating to me. You all walk around with Blinders on, thinking that your culture is the only one that exists. If a movie is not "White Washed," to you, it is not good, not funny, and unrealistic. To be a good critique, you must know what you are talking about when you watch a Black Film. You have to ask yourself, could this person be real; not in your white community, but in a black community. If you don't know, ask someone who is Black, and we can tell you. I have a family member that is a crack head. I have a Madea, I have been treated like the main character in the movie, and I know plenty of gold digging hood-rats. Listen to rap music, it is the story of a lot of our ghettos. That is a big problem with white people. You think if you don't see it and it is not happening to you, it is not true Dedra Brown San Jose, CA

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I just read the sampling of feedback regarding the movie "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" offered on your web site. I was stunned by the accusations of racism. I have been reading your movie reviews for the past twenty years and have never detected a note of racism in any of them. If anything, it's just the opposite. It has been my observation that you have approved of and promoted many "African-American themed" movies that other reviewers have not. I do not believe you are a racist or have ever been. You are one of the best movie reviewers we have and I appreciate your reviews and insights.

Andrea Ciavarella Schaumburg, IL

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I'm a (fellow?) film reviewer for a website in Brazil, but I write this to you as an avid -- and angered -- reader. Please, let me excuse myself in advance for the rusty English. You wrote about viewers diminishing your take on "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" as a matter of race and skin-tone ("color" is just a misused word). It just, pardon mon francais, f**king pissed me off. I thought to myself: "Isn't Ebert the same guy who declared 'Eve's Bayou' as his year's best?"; "Isn't that the same guy who mentioned 'Moolaade' and 'Hotel Rwanda' on his last year's top 10 list?" Being from the genetic melting pot that is Brazil (and being mixed race myself), it comes as another evidence of the sad state of affairs that the North-American society has been reducing itself as of late: a fascist-oid battle of wills where everything is reduced to a matter of race. Everything. How could you possibly evaluate a work-of-art if you don't share the same background or any evident relation to the material? It's just stupid. It angers me to see that people who don't share your point-of-view, who don't know any better about cinematic art, are completely willing to wash you down in absolutely false and offensive accusations. "He didn't like it? That's cause he's a damn Nazi, that's why!" The worst: the race question becomes a cop-out for lack of argument. ... I wonder if the same level of excitement from the general audience [over Jamie Foxx's Oscar win for "Ray"] would be raised if the equally excellent Don Cheadle -- this actor in the movie every single human being has the obligation to watch, "Hotel Rwanda," and my favorite candidate -- had won. My belief? No. The general blockbuster crowd didn't purchase tickets for "Hotel Rwanda"; as Chris Rock taught us [on the Oscars broadcast], they went for "White Chicks" instead, even if "Hotel Rwanda" would apparently appeal to their sensibilities more than "the rest of us." I always read you, but I find myself disagreeing with you most of the time -- and that's a good thing. I love debates. But if I could say something to the people that dissed you: grow yourself some arguments, because this reducing-everything-into-the-black-and-white-issue is just not gonna cut it. And it's alright to like a movie that Ebert didn't. I do it all the time and the points-of-view opposition only makes me more clear-minded. Sorry, just had to vent.

Bernardo Krivochein Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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It seems that some folks in the "Black" community are giving you flak over the review of this movie. Of course, a few have charged you with racism. I, a "Black" man, am sorry to hear that. But Mr. Ebert, you need to understand that "Black" folks all over this nation absolutely love Tyler Perry's comedy using this "grandma" character. He has literally "killed" us for a decade in plays and skits using this character. I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding that involves culture. It has happened before and it will happen again....

I just wanted you to know that though I think you are wrong about a great many things within the African-American community and totally disagree with your review of "Diary of a Mad Black woman", I don't think you are racist and if I may, I would like to apologize for those who have made the charge. Hopefully, we as a community can learn that some of the things we find that funny and/or interesting will not necessarily be accepted by the mainstream.

Lavatior B. Turner Chicago, IL

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After reading your review on "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and your response to the criticism you received, I am more convinced than ever that you are racist and totally clueless. I have never understood why movie critics like you even bother to rate Black movies that you cannot relate to at all. Madea had a relatively small part in the movie, but you critics zeroed in on her and trashed the entire movie. Madea may have done some things most people would not do, but she also does some very touching things, such as feeding her drug addict daughter-in-law, urging her son to forgive and reconcile with his drug addict wife and help her, providing shelter for her suddenly homeless and abused granddaughter and a home for her sick brother, hosting family gatherings, and dispensing words of wisdom.

This movie was about family, love, forgiveness and other positive things. But I guess you can't relate to any of these things. I loved the church scenes and the love scenes with Shemar Moore. I laughed and cried and went through a range of emotions. You would not know this, but Madea has almost a cult following. We find her hilarious. We can relate to her. We greatly admire Tyler Perry and of course will continue to support him in all of his endeavors. You trash Tyler Perry for dressing in drag. Did you also trash Robin Williams for dressing in drag as “Mrs. Doubtfire” and Dustin Hoffman for “Tootsie”? And others? Most of us read your (and others like you) reviews of Black movies as a joke and know that if you don't like one of our movies, we consider that a 'must see.’ We do not take you seriously at all. We will not allow you discourage us from supporting our own. Rochelle Woods Chicago, IL * * *

I wonder if perhaps you disliked “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” because you couldn't understand the cultural context of it. I agree with you that the film has many flaws, but I think the Madea character makes it worth watching. . Sure, Madea is an exaggeration. There's always exaggeration in good comedy. At the same time, there's a lot about Madea that rings true for me. As an African-American woman, I've seen many tamer versions of Madea, women who refused to settle for anything less than their birthrights (respect, consideration and fair treatment). And sometimes these women can get a little rough, knock some heads together, so to speak, but they can be endearing as well.... Black audiences can identify with Madea. They recognize her as a larger-than-life version of some of the no-nonsense, good-hearted aunts, mamas or grannies they've known and loved. In the end, though, I'm not mad at you for trashing this movie, Mr. Ebert. I'm attributing your response to the fact that you're just not in the demographic that this film is designed to reach, and you can't relate to Madea. You're still the best critic in the business, and I hope you'll be entertaining us movie nerds for years to come. But I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. Deborah Young Kansas City, MO

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Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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