In Tyler Perry’s latest writing/directing foray, A Madea Christmas, our favorite gun-toting old lady (played by Perry) goes on a road trip to a little Alabama town called Bucktussle to visit her great-great-grandniece, Lacey (Tika Sumpter), an elementary school teacher. Lacey’s keeping a big secret from her mother, Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford): a new man, Conner (Erik Lively). Just when it seems like keeping up the charade will be a piece of cake, Conner’s parents, Buddy and Kim (Larry the Cable Guy and Kathy Najimy, respectively), show up to celebrate the holiday with their son.
The cast also includes Chad Michael Murray playing the racist villain Tanner, the townie who has a knack for saying “poinsettias” in a very special way. Hallmark Christmas movie favorite Alicia Witt plays type as a mom concerned about the well-being of her bullied son, Bailey (Noah Urrea). And, Lisa Whelchel phones it in as (nudge, wink) Nancy Porter, the elementary school principal and Lacey’s boss.
“Lacey’s driving force is family and love and just trying to do the right thing,” said Sumpter, 33, about what motives her character. “Sometimes we think we’re doing the right thing, but there are other factors that surround it that make us not read the fine print sometimes.”
Lacey’s need to please her mother weighs heavier than her relationship with Conner. She knows Eileen will not like that Lacey is seeing a “white man” on account of her father was killed by one protecting Eileen’s honor. Being raised solely by Eileen, Lacey feels the need to protect her mother’s feelings, even at the expense of others.
This conundrum isn’t the only issue plaguing Lacey this holiday season. There’s also the issue of the town Christmas Jubilee, which is in jeopardy of being cancelled because of budget problems. That is until Lacey saves the day by having her ex-boyfriend, Oliver, (JR Lemon) come to the town’s rescue with a sponsor for the Jubilee. There’s just one catch: the town must take “Jesus,” “God,” and “Christmas” out of their festivities.
“There’s so many different lessons, like bullying and standing up for yourself and finding out what Christmas is really about,” Sumpter, a Queens, New York native, said about the film and its various messages.
Perry’s Christmas Madea serves two purposes: as entertainment and a way to address bullying, stereotyping and prejudice based on race. That’s a lot of themes for a light-hearted Christmas movie. Then again, Perry seems to be hard-pressed to give his film more weight and be something.
‘If it’s a great character, I’m willing to play it,” Sumpter said about how she makes her decisions to do roles. “I like multi-faceted characters and I don’t like to play the same thing.”
For the sake of A Madea Christmas, it could be said that Lacey’s multi-faceted-ness comes from her openness to love a man of a different race. Some would say that this is just a ploy so that Perry can go mainstream and “forget about his people.”
To that, Sumpter says: “Tyler employs so many people and made more millionaires from employing people than any studio has ever done. He knows who’s supported him and is there anything wrong with having other people in movies and expanding the brand? No.”
“Listen to Tyler Perry and you’ll hear a man who hasn’t forgotten about the people that have helped him reach the top of a mountain he could once only dream of climbing,” reads the production notes of the film.
Madea has become an iconic character that is beloved and Perry is only doing what other comedians have done with their own iconic characters: he’s puts Madea in different situations to see how she will react. It would seem that these films are becoming more character-study in the vain of Ernest Goes to Fill-in-the-blank. Sure, Ernest became grating 15 minutes into the film. But, after eight or so films, no one was calling Jim Varney a “sell-out.”
Most importantly, Sumpter sticks behind her work and the film that is A Madea Christmas, or else she wouldn’t have agreed to be in the film.
“It’s just so many take-aways from it,” said Sumpter. “But, really it’s just a light-hearted, fun, get-out-there-and-just-have-a-good-time-with-your-family kind of film.”