Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (27th May 2011).
The Film

With Oprah Winfrey leaving daytime television, few Black people in the entertainment industry can claim the kind of selling power that Tyler Perry has come into control of. Though his feuding with Spike Lee has driven the headlines, with some justifiable criticism on Lee’s behalf, Perry’s Madea branding of movies never fails to draw large numbers at the box office on relatively small budgets. “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” (2005) emerges from a long tradition of Black romantic comedies and Black family movies to create a distinct branding on Black film that features a Black middle-class ethos with heavy Christian overtones while featuring Black women as central characters; even if colorism issues abound and Perry centers black heteronormativity through drag.

Helen (Kimberly Elise) and Charles (Steve Harris) are a wealthy, black married couple in Atlanta, whose marriage has entered some turmoil. Though Charles has risen through the ranks of lawyers to become one of the most prestigious in the city, his relationship with his wife has fallen apart and they become separated after Charles revealed he has had a long-term side relationship with another woman. With no money (due to a pre-nuptual agreement) nowhere to live and no immediate family in the city, Helen turns to her Grandmother Madea (Tyler Perry) for help, finding a new love in Orlando (Shemar Moore) the man who helped her move out, a job and some personal strength along the way.

For me the most important issues in the movie come through the setting, casting, and storytelling that Perry writes and produces in “Diary.” The class issues come through fairly quickly with Helen and Charles a part of the Black upper class, though Charles seems to have ‘forgotten his roots,’ regurgitating some of William Julius Wilson’s issues with classism in the Black community as the working class, blue-collar Black people in the film are the protagonists. Charles and his drug-dealing client are the well-to do blacks who have become entrenched in their wealth.

What becomes even more problematic is the skin tones of villians and protagonists in the film. The “tragic mulatto” has surfaced as a trope in dealing with Black people in film, yet Perry returns to some old stereotypes of Black villainy while mixing things up. The male antagonists, Charles and the Drug Dealer, are dark-skinned black men, while the male protagonists are much lighter skinned: Orlando is the “strong, beautiful, sensitive and Christian” black man that allows Helen to rediscover herself in spite of Charles’ emotional and vaguely physical abuse while Helen’s cousin Bryan (Perry again) is an attorney who hasn’t lost sight of his home community. However he is married to the lighter skinned Debrah (Tamarah Taylor), whose drug problem has racked their family, while Charles cheats on the dark skinned Helen with the very light skinned Brenda (Lisa Marcos). The sort of Colorism that Spike Lee confronted in “School Daze” (1988) is prevalent, though intriguingly repackaged as the Dark Skinned men are still associated with tropes of sexual promiscuity, they are also the wealthy who have lost touch with their community, a historical trope of light skinned men.

With the heavy analysis aside, Perry’s writing is very procedural and formulaic. Perry explicitly pounds his Christianity into the movie, which may be part of the film’s draw, but for me was just overbearing. The characters that he puts out, given all the above problems I have, are mostly one-dimensional roles. Orlando is the romancer who can do no wrong, Charles is the bad husband, and Madea is the comedic relief. Helen is a more complicated image and touches on some interesting ideas of Black Feminism, but completely twists these back into a male-centric power structure as Helen seems dependent on her relationships with men, be it Orlando or Charles.

There are many more Madea movies left in the collection, and unfortunately more to come, and there are more issues to be dealt with, but as a movie “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” is a fairly shallow romantic comedy whose genre twisting adds some problems in production. I can’t knock Perry’s rise to prominence or buying power (“The Boondocks” (2005-Present) already sent up Perry hilariously), but as a film “Diary” falls into many pitfalls of romantic comedy while adding some colorisim issues into the mix.

Video

The Blu-ray transfer comes through nicely in an AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1080p 24/fps image presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The colors and clarity of the movie actually come through well in the transfer, with a few moments that fade into rain, but otherwise it’s a well lit and well transferred movie. Of course the angelic styled lighting schemes, meant to emphasize the religiosity of the film, make for some glare in scenes where everything seems too bright or shiny considering the scene, but it’s more a stylistic choice than a transfer option.

Audio

Like the visuals, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track is fairly crisp and balanced between the soundtrack and audio. There are still a few pops in the concert scenes that shift from dialogue to jazz or gospel. All around it’s a clean transfer that doesn’t have a lot to capture in terms of sound considering the film is mostly voice over, dialogue or music, though there are times when the shifting between dialogue and voice over isn’t well balanced with the cuts on screen that can be a little confusing on what’s being spoken versus what is being thought.
There’s also a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track with English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish subtitles.

Extras

The disc is actually well put together with special features, including two audio commentary tracks, a collection of featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, a photo gallery and bonus trailers. However all of the featurettes are presented in standard definition quality, bringing down some the visual and audio standards set by the film.

First up is Tyler Perry’s audio commentary track, at times speaking like you have never seen the movie before and filled with gaps in the commentary, Perry still gives a large amount of behind-the-scenes details about the production process and his inspiration in trying to tell the story of a Black woman who had the opportunity to get back at a cheating husband. There are comments about expanding on the stage version, getting to tell more and do more in a film version. Perry is fairly self complimentary, talking about his height, his home that was used as the set for Charles’ house, doing his own stunts and his ad-libbing.

The second audio commentary is with director Darren Grant and actress Kimberly Elise, it’s a much more soft-spoken and quiet commentary to the movie, speaking more about becoming exposed to Perry’s work and taking part in the movie. This commentary is more on the practical and technical side of the commentary, less of the quips in the Perry track and more on the production as a whole. Between the more technical nature, the larger gaps in commentary and the quieter voices, it’s a much more difficult track to sit through.

“The ‘ATL’” featurette runs for 9 minutes and 49 seconds, proclaiming Atlanta “The New Hollywood of the South” talking more with people on the street about the rise of Atlanta in the film industry, mixed in with behind-the-scenes footage of the film. There are interviews with prominent Atlanta reverends and Atlanta-based theatre owners, it could almost be a promotional video brought to you by the City of Atlanta, featuring Tyler Perry.

“The Real Mad Black Women” runs for 16 minutes and 44 seconds, this featurette speaks with 12 women of different backgrounds and marital statuses watching the film and reacting. It’s an interesting sort of audience reaction piece, as all the women discuss the film and just from the fewer minutes of conversation this should have been a commentary track on the film. The women talk about the difference between white and black women’s reactions to the situations in the film and what they would have done in some of the different situations in the film.

Next are the music montages five in all playable together for 13 minutes and 50 seconds or separately Each is almost a self-contained music video that pulls together different scenes and stills from the film to a song specified for each scene, sometimes with after effects layered in:

- “Ain’t it Funny” runs for 3 minutes and 27 seconds.
- “Ask the Savior” runs for 52 seconds.
- “Father Can You Hear Me” runs for 4 minutes and 39 seconds.
- “I Wanna Swing” runs for 2 minutes and 24 seconds.
- “Take it to Jesus” runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.

The ten deleted scenes are playable together for 20 minutes and 27 seconds or separately, described below:

- “Madea pushes Helen to get a job” runs for 1 minute and 50 seconds, Madea tells Helen to stop sitting around and get a job.
- “Debrah brings Tiffany home” runs for 3 minutes and 45 seconds, Debrah and Brian get into a spat after Debra homes back into the home.
- “Helen sees Orlando at church” runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds, Orlando talks to Helen after church.
- “Tiffany gives Debrah her necklace” runs for 3 minutes and 44 seconds. Debrah is jonesing for a fix, sinking to steal from her kids’ piggybank.
- “Tiffany didn’t come home with B.J.” runs for 46 seconds, B.J. shows up at home without his sister.
- “Charles wants to stay on the case” runs for 1 minute and 41 seconds, in his office Charles and his assistant discuss the case.
- “Helen can’t pay for dinner” runs for 3 minutes and 27 seconds, Helen goes out to dinner on her own at a nice restaurant, but is cut off and can’t pay the check and lucks into a job.
- “Brian tucks B.J. in” runs for 1 minute and 9 seconds, Brian, in silk pajamas, puts his son to bed.
- “Debrah sober for four weeks” runs for 1 minute and 56 seconds. Brian is dealing with his home practice, he and Debrah discuss her sobriety.
- “Brian and kids get to visit Debrah in rehab” runs for 1 minute and 4 seconds, Brian and his family go to visit Debrah, but she has already left.

Rather than just one blooper reel, there’s an outtakes section that is playable together for 3 minutes and 25 seconds or separately:

- “Madea in courtroom” runs for 1 minute and 43 seconds.
- “Helen and Myrtle visit Madea” runs for 49 seconds.
- “Just one ball” runs for 39 seconds.
- “Bouncy Madea” runs for 14 seconds.

Now the special features go back to featurette with “The Making of ‘Diary of a Mad Black Woman’” which runs for 20 minutes and 36 seconds. Tyler Perry talks about starting out on the black theatre circuit with the characters of Joe and Madea, moving into some behind-the-scenes footage, casting and a heaping dose of Perry doing interviews in character. It also speaks with the rest of the cast and director Darren Grant, emphasizing Perry’s humor and talent, while mixing in some production stories. It’s a Perry-centric making-of, but is fairly low quality and lack of production details are lacking.

“Who is Tyler Perry?” featurette runs for 12 minutes and 31 seconds. Just in case you hadn’t heard enough about Tyler Perry in the making-of, all the actors, characters and crew talking about who Tyler Perry is and what he does. There are some more interesting comments about the Black theatre circuit, known as the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” incorporating Perry’s background in New Orleans and growing into his role in the theatre industry. At time the production values dip into the realm of public access television, but really the featurette is more revealing about Tyler Perry’s ability to market himself as a product which has lead to his success, along with his writing and characters.

“Reflections on Diary” featurette runs for 2 minutes and 53 seconds, Tyler Perry speaks briefly abot his inspiration and ongoing inspiration for his plays, citing his devout Christianity and quoting from the bible to make his point about the biblical messages of his films.

Tyler Perry Spotlight” featurette runs for 11 minutes and 41 seconds, and features more Tyler Perry, but it strangely seems to be the exact same featurette as the “Who is Tyler Perry?” featurette. It is literally the exact same interviews, but with a few different clips from different productions. It’s the weirdest case of double dipping that I’ve seen in special features.

Next is the photo gallery that contains 25 images.

“You can do it, It’s Electric…” clip runs for 2 minutes and 52 seconds. Madea and the family at the dance party do the electric slide, but not to the electric slide music, set to written instructions on the screen.

Bonus trailers on the disc are for:

- “For Colored Girls” runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.
- “Tyler Perry on Blu-ray” runs for 53 seconds.
- “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family: The Play” runs for 56 seconds.

Overall

The Film: F Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: F Overall: C-

 


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