As Time, Slate, and just about everyone else has pointed out, the director-writer-actor-cross-dresser-non-Oscar-nominee Tyler Perry, whose Madea’s Family Reunion took home $30 million in its opening weekend, may be a Hollywood outsider, but he connects to a vastly underserved audience of mostly middle-class African-Americans. He releases his movies independently, through Lionsgate, because major studios won’t produce his religious-themed scripts, and Perry refuses to edit out his Christianity. (“If you don’t want my God here,” he has said, “you don’t want me here.”) But Perry’s movies are better known for their strange hodgepodge of slapstick, Mommie Dearest–style melodrama, and big-name African-American stars (Angela Bassett, Maya Angelou, Jill Scott, Janet Jackson) than for their moralist parables. In Madea Goes to Jail, opening today, the titular heroine saves a fellow inmate from prostitution and junkie-hood. We've taken the occasion to analyze how closely five of his top-grossing earlier movies stick to scripture — or, more to the point, do not.
The Family That Preys
What happens: Longtime friends from opposite backgrounds try to reconcile their differences.
Biblical lesson: "Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor." Corinthians 10:24
Blasphemy Factor, 6 out of 10: Even Perry doesn’t seem to believe his social-climbing characters can be saved: Extramarital affairs plague both families, one leading to an illegitimate child; Kathy Bates spends most of the movie saying vicious things like, “My family has been known to prey on the weak,” then (unconvincingly) asking for forgiveness.
Daddy's Little Girls
What happens: A single-parent mechanic reclaims his daughters from an abusive ex-wife.
Biblical lesson: "Let us not lose heart in doing good." Galatians 6:9
Blasphemy Factor, 9: The protagonist is a convicted rapist, and the only person who prays regularly dies fifteen minutes into the film. The real lesson: Get a good lawyer.
Diary of a Mad Black Woman
What happens: A cheating husband throws his wife out of the house.
Biblical lesson: "Lust ... gives birth to sin." James 1:15
Blasphemy Factor, 3: The dumped wife allows her ex keep all the money and property — that’s forgiveness, we guess. Points off for kicking a corpse at a funeral.
Why Did I Get Married?
What happens: Four couples reevaluate their marriages on vacation.
Biblical lesson: "Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing." Proverbs 18:22
Blasphemy Factor, 1: One case of unspecified venereal disease that’s promptly cured, and the dirtiest word is “trick.” Characters ask Jesus to save their love lives — and it actually works!
Madea's Family Reunion
What happens: A family heals its tensions at a church wedding.
Biblical lesson: "Take refuge in the Lord." Psalm 118:8
Blasphemy Factor, 9: The most lurid Perry film: Rampant domestic abuse, rape, pedophilia, and two threats of murder. Not a perfect 10, because the family matriarch rings a bell to usher in Christian salvation and they all dance to “We Are Family.”