Men in Foam, Lot’s of Foam: Thoughts on Black Comics in Drag

| Feb 10, 2007
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Martin Lawrence as Big Momma.

What’s the deal with black, comic actors dressing up like fat ladies? In the past decade there have been several films that feature their male stars padding up (way up!) and slipping into drag. Yes, Flip Wilson started it all back in the day with his female character but she was slim and sexy. Great legs. Do the name Geraldine ring a bell?

Martin Lawrence started doing drag roles on his television show, Martin, back in the early nineties portraying Edna ‘Mama’ Payne (the prototype for future momma drag characters?) and Sheneneh. Sheneneh, while not at all attractive, wasn’t immense. And she knew how to work a pair of hotpants. But then, around the turn of the century, Lawrence created Big Momma for Big Momma’s House. (Known as Big Momma’s Haus in Germany.) It wasn’t a female character per se, but it was a master of disguise impersonating a female and doing it well enough to fool her congregation and relatives.

Tyler Perry as himself and as Madea.

A bit later, in 2002, Tyler Perry unleashed his female character, and she’s not a drag character, Mable “Madea” Simmon is the real thing, a matriarch who doesn’t take any lip and is an inspiration to her family and friends. Perry has been Medea in at least six production through this decade, as well as taking it on the road in a live show.

And yes, the Wayans brothers did White Chicks in 2004 but their female characters were not only white but slim and stylish (and again, great legs) so they don’t feature here, unless they decide to do a new film where they impersonate old black ladies of girth.

Which brings us to Eddie Murphy. Murphy started doing drag roles with the 1996 release, The Nutty Professor. He suited up to play a couple of old an and/or unattractive women in that flick but balanced it with several male roles. He was back in a housedress in the Nutty Professor II: The Klumps in 2000. Now, he has just released Norbit and as you can see from the photo the female role he has taken on can only be described as big, very big.

Eddie Murphy as Rasputia.

The lady is Rasputia and she is hell on wheels. She decides that Norbit (also played by Eddie Murphy) will be her husband and she crushes any protests (literally) that he makes as she drags him to the altar.

In the New York Times review the critic said, “He (Murphy) also endows Rasputia, in spite of her habit of throwing Norbit through walls, her flatulence and her handy, tiresome catchphrase (“How you doin’), with an odd kind of delicacy. Her violent meanness is compounded by vanity, an unshakable sense of her own divine femininity that shows itself in the way she rolls her eyes, tilts her head and flutters her enormous, exquisitely manicured hands. Rasputia is certainly hateful, but some of her self-love manages to rub off on the audience.”

Which brings us back to the question, what’s up with black comic actors who dress up as large black ladies? Of course the question we, as TGs, have to ask relates to their motivation. What’s my motivation? Seriously, since all three of these actors have writing and directing credit on these projects they could have picked any actor–male or female–to play the female roles. They wanted to do these parts and that may be their desire to stretch themselves as performers or it may be, just may be, a desire to explore femininity in a public way by playing broad characters for comic effect. But, if Martin, Tyler and Eddie want to do some serious digging into female roles how about if they go ahead and portray serious female characters of average build and beauty? They’ve all got the physical characteristics to pull it off and they would only have to spend three to four hours in hair and makeup instead of most of the day. It would be a lot easier to go exploring when you’re not weighed down with a ton of latex and foam. Just think if Eddie Murphy decided to play a female character straight and brought the same “unshakable sense of her own divine femininity” to that role. It could be a tour de force. And of course we’d all be going to see it and then buying the DVD. His box office could be gigantic — instead of his body.

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Category: All TGForum Posts, Transgender Fun & Entertainment, Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

Angela Gardner is a founding member of The Renaissance Transgender Association, Inc., the former editor of that organization's newsletter and magazine, Transgender Community News. She wrote the Diva of Dish column for TGF in the late 1990s and was the Editor of LadyLike magazine until its untimely demise. She is currently the Editor of TGF. She has appeared in film and television shows portraying TG characters, as well as representing Renaissance on numerous talk shows. In her idle hours she keeps busy producing her monthly TG parties, Angela's Laptop Lounge.

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  1. says:

    Eddie Murphy is also famous for allegedly tring to help out a TV hooker on night in Hollywood or Santa Monica.
    I think there might be something there for Ms Eddie

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