Why Do Black Men Wear Dresses?

Martin Lawrence as Shenehneh Jenkins

Hollywood loves Black men, especially when they throw on a dress.  From Flip Wilson to Eddie Murphy to Jamie Foxx to Martin Lawrence to Tyler Perry, black entertainers have a history of pulling off the slacks and pulling up the pantyhose.  Over the last few weeks several of my intelligent, socially-savvy male friends have called me to ask, "What's up with Tyler Perry and the dress?"  They used a few more colorful phrases, but I'll leave that to your imagination.   I have no idea why they deem me the expert on gender and culture in Hollywood, but I understand their concern.   Living and working in New York City where the image of a professional brother is few and far between, it's a bit daunting to walk through a city plastered with posters of Perry—a black man donned in lipstick and dress.  But truth be told:  I think Madea is Tyler Perry's best offering.  He's kind of a comedic genius in that dress.


I remember while I was working on a CW sitcom and two of the other black male writers—braggingly married with children—were the first to throw on dresses for the annual Gag Reel [a spoof the writers do mocking the actors].  I remember thinking:  Interesting.  It appears every comedic brother has a woman in the repertoire.

Let me take this a few steps further.  Perry, just like Wilson, Foxx, Murphy and Lawrence, is an actor/comedian.  They're artists.  And many artists like to indulge or exploit every part of their humanity which, in their case, include the feminine part.  And it might actually be considered a talent to embody a woman's persona [uh oh! society's designated guideline for a woman's persona. that's better].  In fact, some may consider it courageous.  Now I know many believe black actors in a dress is a way for Hollywood to disempower black men by feminizing them while making big cash and that's a legit concern.  Black men have it tough enough in this country and anything or -one that suggests vulernability and femaleness could be considered a threat to the hard-earned image of "black manhood".  Without a doubt.  But something tells me Perry or Lawrence don't care about that.  What do you think?

Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.