Hollywood eyes are on Tyler Perry's new film, Madea's Family Reunion, to see if the film will exceed the rather surprising success of last year's Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which grossed $50 million after being made for $5.5 million. Distrib Lions Gate funded Madea's to the tune of $10 million, and there will likely be more of Perry's films to come, assuming Madea's equals the success of its predecessor (Lions Gate acquired a seven - count 'em, seven - picture deal for the remaining Madea films after Diary). Lions Gate is opening the film on 2,194 screens, compared to Diary's 1,483, and has set up interviews for Perry, but did not release Madea's to press ahead of time, perhaps due to the sound drubbing Diary received from critics.
What made Diary so unexpectedly successful? Not white people, many of whom had never even heard of Perry before Diary, even though his plays were selling out to largely black audiences. In large part, the success of Diary was Perry himself, who marketed his film to his target audience - hardworking, Christian black women - through his website, ads on black radio stations, and directly to large African-American churches. Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris - who is black and blasted the film - found himself attacked as a racist by Perry fans, who accused him of being white.
Critic Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere, who saw Madea's at its premiere, has an interesting take: it doesn't matter what a bunch of white film journalists think about this film, because, like Diary, Madea's is going to be a hit with its target African-American audience regardless. Wells argues that it's "beside the point for a mildly snobby existentialist white-guy journalist" like himself to put down the film, because he is irrelevant - with the right crowd, Wells says, the film works. I can see Wells' point - that critics' opinions aren't going to matter to the target audience in this case - but does that really mean white critics shouldn't review a black film? And what would be the flip side of that coin? Would the same critics who were last year lambasted as racists for not liking Diary, be doubly skewered for not even bothering to review Madea's? I'm really not sure on which horn of this particular dilemma to impale myself.
So what do you think? Do the opinions of film critics even matter on films like Madea's? And are critics opinions relevant only if they are the same race as the film's target audience?