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Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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Aunt Bam is back! And so is Madea in Madea‘s Neighbors from Hell. The latest comedic and inspirational episode of the tough-as-a-drill sergeant old broad (played with cross-dressing gusto by creator her prolific Tyler Perry) and her sidekick Aunt Bam Murphy (Cassi Davis) is out on DVD, Digital HD, Video on Demand and Pay-Per-View today (4/22). Presented as a stage play (recorded before a live audience), this latest installment — like its stage and film predecessors — features a combination of broad comedy, inspirational music and life lessons. Perry, BTW, is reportedly taking a break from plays and movies to concentrate on continuing to develop scripted television (i.e. The Haves and Have Nots and Love Thy Neighbor) for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN cable channel.

In Neighbors from Hell, Madea’s neighborhood takes a turn for the worse when a foster mother moves in with her unruly kids.  Suspicious activity leads Madea to take justice into her own hands. With Aunt Bam by her side, Madea uses her unique wit and wisdom to get results.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Cassi Davis (also known for her role in House of Payne) about her ongoing role as Aunt Bam and her special relationship with Tyler Perry.

JWK: By this time, the role of Aunt Bam is probably second nature to you. Tell me about the character.

CASSI DAVIS: She’s really a second cousin to Madea…(laughs) I just found out this last play that she lives two doors down from Madea. I just found out we were neighbors!

JWK: So, that wasn’t revealed in previous installments?

CD: No.

JWK: You’ve played this character in stage and movie versions of Madea, correct?

CD: That’s correct.

JWK: So, tell me a little bit about Madea’s Neighbors from Hell.

CD: Basically, it is as all of Tyler’s movies and TV shows, I think he really tries to always give a theme of some sort. So, this particular one sheds light on the foster care system…Aunt Bam is sitting on her porch and she gets into knowing what the (new) neighbors are doing next door…Basically, the flip of it all is that Bam and Madea (become) the neighbors from hell…(But) it’s about children and the love for children and taking care children even if they’re not yours.

He (Tyler Perry) always has a Gospel theme that runs through. You know, with God on your side you can really, really do all things. That’s how I got into this whole business. It was the Lord’s doing.  That’s, basically, what the play is about.

JWK: What’s it like working with Tyler Perry?

CD: Oh, my. I am entertained every moment. Being on stage with Tyler, I have to make sure that I remember that I’m actually in the play and not just watching him (as) Madea. He’s just a funny guy. It’s a dream come true really to be on stage and be trusted to be comedic…You know, he allows us to just be true to our characters but at the same time be true to his piece…If he allows us to ad-lib sometimes, that’s a great feeling because to know that you’re in the same vein as the writer/creator/producer. It’s wonderful to work with Tyler.

JWK: Have you two become friends over the years?

CD: Oh, my God, yeah. You know we actually became friends the first year. I worked with in in ’05. That’s when we did Madea Goes to Jail. That’s before the movie version. That was just the play version. He and I became really, really close during that play. But, for all of the pieces, I am the one who separates, you know, “This is business” from Tyler) being my friend. I never cross the line with him to take advantage of a friendship. If he doesn’t hire me. I’m not standing in the wings saying “Uuuuh, what about me?” If he calls me I am just truly so grateful. I pass out on the floor every time, I’m so grateful. But, if he doesn’t call, I still support him because I just really love (his work). Over the years, because of our friendship, I really know that he loves the Lord. To see what God is doing for him and through him and to feel the positivity that (is put forth through) his plays, movies and TV shows, tt’s just a blessing to know him and to have the Lord put him in my life.

JWK: You’ve also said that you give God the credit for your own success.

CD: Oh, it’s nothing but God’s doing! I don’t have agents and managers. I’ve never had any acting classes…My resume really reads “Tyler Perry” dot, dot, dot. I’m not in that business like that (but) I’ve become a part of it…So, my testimony is true. The Lord really did do it for me.

I was in a play and Mr. Perry saw me in it and asked me to come and be a part of his play. I shunned him for about two and a half years and then finally one of my preacher friends said “Hey, fool, you’re gonna miss (God’s plan)! You better call that man and see if you can be in one of his plays!”

JWK: Why did you not jump at the opportunity?

CD: (I thought) “I don’t want to do that! Surely, God’s not blessing that!” She said, “Okay, you’re looking at the wrong thing. Your mind is really wrapped around the wrong thing! You are living in a box and you will miss (God’s plan)!” The messages and the themes and the way the plays motivate and speak to people. Sometimes people won’t go to a church building but they will watch a Madea play. Restoration and forgiveness and deliverance and a whole lot of things happen right there in the theater. I get reports and testimonies when I’m at the grocery store or when I’m at a gas station or wherever…Someone is always saying “You know what? I am so glad I saw that movie or this particular play or this particular TV show. It spoke to me and it made me want to do right. It made me want to go back to church. It made me want to establish a relationship with the Lord.”

I got out of the way and I allowed the Lord to use me and put me in that pathway.

JWK: What play were you in when Tyler Perry spotted you?

CD: I was at the National Black Theater Festival in Wilmington, North Carolina. I was in a play called Barefoot in the Park. I was playing the telephone lady. I was actually in the play for only ten minutes — five in the first act and five in the second act. And Mr. Perry came to the festival that year. He was in the audience. Afterwards, he came back. This is a story. I mean it really is an epic. I wish someone would call Dick Wolf or it doesn’t make any difference who. But my story is a fabulous story! It’s like a fairy tale!

JWK: So, the story of how you met Tyler Perry could be a play or a movie itself. 

CD: You got that right! Yes, sir!

JWK: So, tell me a little about your personal story. Were you always a Christian?

CD: Yes, sir. I hail from the booming metropolis of Holly Springs, Mississippi. It’s a college town. I am the second oldest of four children. (We had) mom and dad in the home. It was beautiful growing up. We were reared in the church. My parents were Christians and they believed in the rod and they believed in the Word! (Jokes) And sometimes I think it was in that order! The rod came first and then the Word. But it worked! The principles and the things that my parents taught me growing up were just wonderful. I mean I didn’t know that they were going to pan out or I didn’t know that they were going to work for me as I began to mature. Because, you know, all kids and children are like “Can you just leave me alone? Do we have to go to church again?! We went last Sunday! Do we have to go every Sunday?!” My parents were very active in the United Methodist Church. So, I was always there and became active as youth. When I left home in ’84 and went to Spellman College and that’s a story within itself. I got to college and I began to explore life outside of just going to church every Sunday. My life just kind of spiraled out because I got involved in a whole lot of things that just were distracting (and) took me away from my mission — which was going to school. After that, you hit a rock, you hit a ditch and, of course, everybody, whether you believe in God or not, you call on somebody — anybody! — and you go “Help me get out of this!” I called on the Lord and He heard my cry. I established a relationship with Him in 1991.

I was in the Perfecting Church in Detroit, Michigan — Marvin Winans‘ church. I was doing a play with him. By that time my career began. I was doing a play with Chip Fields…and I was living a riotous life. The play ended and we went for Detroit for convocation. When I got there, Pastor Winans was preaching a sermon. (He said) “This day, whom will you serve? Will it be God? The choice is yours.”  And I heard that song: “Holy One, I never want to let You down. No more, I’ll never let you down…” And that has just been my heart’s desire ever since that September (of) 1991. I just fell in love with the Lord. He just opened my heart to receive His Word, His Will, His Way and I’ve really been trying to live that life…

…After I got into the Word and it began to minister to me, I was able to pull the words from the page and actually apply (them) to my life and (say) “Wow! I’m different!…I am what the Bible says I am!” It is a struggle to live holy. People don’t talk about living holy anymore. They just live with the compromise…But I’m human and I err and there is forgiveness. His Grace and His Mercy is what keeps me forever bent over and forever bowed down, forever worshiping and forever giving him praise. He’s…Almighty God!

So, I’m in this business but I really am not of it. I know it is the Lord’s doing and I can’t wait until the next project!

Right now I’m just wanting to do some things for students and kids back in Mississippi because this spotlight that the Lord has put me in has really opened the door for kids to listen to whatever I have to say. I’m not in there beating them up (by saying) “You better believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior or you’re going to go to hell!” I’m not doing that — but I can encourage them. I can tell them what positive about their lives and what they have to offer and what they have to look forward to. No matter what, you can still become whatever.

I am in this business and I don’t have the things that these phenomenal actors and actresses are doing. They have agents and managers and P.R. people and of that stuff. Mr. Perry will call me and ask me to be in his play and then all of those wonderful people over at Lionsgate say “Would you like to do some promotions”…And then someone asked if I would talk to you and here I am on the phone with you. So, my life is wonderful.

JWK: That takes up right up to this moment. What do you see in your future?

CD: I really don’t know what the Lord has planned for me next. I’m just excited to live day to day to day.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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