The entertainment industry never understood what Tyler Perry represented. People laughed at him, but they also learned from the New Orleans native. He arrived in Hollywood 15 years ago already a self-made millionaire, thanks to his built-in fan base with a franchise centering around the feisty, take-no-mess granny named Madea. As you would expect, Perry controlled the rights to his work then just as he does now.
“I had to own the intellectual property because that is where the value is. That is the thing that changes wealth for generations to come. That will change my son’s future,” the father of a 5-year-old son, Aman, tells EBONY. “I wish more of us, as African-Americans, knew that the value is in ownership, which is the only thing that is going to keep this momentum going. We’re in this great moment in Hollywood where Black is in.”
Just recently, he hosted the grand opening of the historic Tyler Perry Studios, a $250 million Atlanta facility that sits on 330 acres. There were no outside backers. Perry is the first African-American to independently own his own studio, on land he purchased in 2015. Once a Confederate Army base, Fort McPherson, the enormous complex includes 12 soundstages ranging in size from 10,000 to 38,000 square feet that are named after legendary Black actors and filmmakers, including Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson and Spike Lee. Marvel’s box office smash Black Panther was the first feature filmed there in part before the studio’s official opening. The location rivals and is larger than the Disney, Paramount and Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, California, put together.
“Combined, you can put all [the other studios'] ground on this land. I’m a person who dreams really, really big. In my prayers, why did it have to be this big and why did it have to be this much?” he asks. “I realize and understand that it’s not for me as much as it is for other people, especially people of color, who have had to take the backseat in this country to see that it’s possible. This moment is showing what is possible when you work hard.”
Perry continues to show what is possible. He’s hoping in the near future to have pods at the complex for LGBTQ youth, battered women and those who’ve aged out of foster care. “That is my next goal,” he shares. “I’ve done a lot of work with charities that have worked with all of these groups, but I want to have a place where I know they are safe.”
Most recently, the November 2019 Democratic presidential debate was held at the landmark facility. His star power also was literally cemented the month before when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored him with the 2,675th star on the fabled Hollywood Walk of Fame. As the co-owner of the subscription streaming service BET+, his new series lineup includes the political drama The Oval and the dramatic comedy Sistas. Expect access to all his films and stage plays. Then there’s the Netflix movie A Fall From Grace (see sidebar)and a new partnership with Peachtree & Vine Productions.
“There are so many stories. It’s about finding other projects and producing other projects. It’s kind of like what Oprah and I did with the movie Precious. I hope that Peachtree & Vine picks up the slack on other artistic stuff I want to do,” says the media mogul, whose The Haves and the Have Nots has been renewed on OWN for a seventh season.
In 2019, he officially retired Madea, the character on whose shoulders his wealth and empire were mostly built. The final film, A Madea Family Funeral, grossed more than $74 million. And Perry was “surprised” that his 21st and last stage play, Madea’s Farewell, was his “most successful.” He has come to accept that, though tried and true, the industry still doesn’t quite get him or his audience. He’s unbothered at this point because it’s about agency and advocacy in the big A.
“Build your own table, and stop asking for a seat at someone else’s table. That’s why I came to Atlanta. I know the value in what I do, and I know how important our stories are to us. We have to stop trying to run and cross over and get attention from somebody else,” he emphasizes. “These are people who don’t even care . . . I found value in my own face, in my own people, in my own color. Until we realize as Black people that there is tremendous value in our own community, we will always be asking somebody to validate us. Why ask someone to validate me outside of the world I live in that is so special and built this entire place, ticket by ticket, grandmothers coming with their grandkids, laughing, to see Madea?”
He’s yielded power, perhaps in the Hollywood sense of the definition, through the very trappings of wealth and fame. So with more money comes more problems, right? Wrong. “I believe it is all relevant. I have the same amount of issues I had when I was broke, it’s just different issues,” he explains. “People look at the now but don’t look at the then. I still felt like I was the same person then as I do now. I still felt rich even though I couldn’t pay bills. I still felt wealthy within my soul and myself as a person.”
Power, he quickly clarifies, doesn’t have to mean having money. For Perry, it’s much deeper than what’s in one’s pockets.
“I know a lot of people who have power but aren’t necessarily rich. A definition for me is when you have a tool that you can use for good to uplift, encourage and open doors for people. That’s what I think the definition of power, in this setting, should be,” he says. “I can’t speak to power without talking about faith in God. Power for me, from birth growing up, was going to church and understanding the power of God and working hard to align with that. You might have talent, but if everything is not lined up, it might not happen. I had the time and the talent, but it took God for everything to line up. That’s the ultimate power for me.”
Perry’s Power Reminders:
- It is a two-way sword.
- Handle it with care.
- Use it for good.
- It doesn’t make you who you are.
- If in the right hands, it can change the world.
Tyler Perry’s A Fall From Grace Takes Look at Love Gone Wrong
Riveting Netflix thriller marks filmmaker’s first movie shot entirely at new Tyler Perry Studios
Four years ago, Tyler Perry wrote the script for his latest movie, A Fall From Grace, which deals with a recently divorced woman, Grace Waters, who takes a chance on love once more. The only problem is that she soon learns Mr. Right is very wrong for her once secrets are unveiled. The longtime pillar of the Virginia community eventually loses everything to this man—in addition to losing her freedom and, seemingly, her sanity.
“She met this guy who brought her the love she was missing, but when she lets her guard down, all hell breaks loose. It’s a really powerful thriller,” explains Perry, who wrote, directed and executive produced the movie, which premieres on Netflix January 17.
Writing for women is what he considers to be a “complete passion.” As is the case with most of his films, he’s hoping that audiences will take away a bigger message. “Growing up seeing what my mom went through at the hands of my father and being a boy child who was small and weak, not able to defend his mother, still affects me to this day,” he says.” “I am speaking to women to help them understand their value and their worth.”
Crystal Fox of the OWN series Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots plays the lead role. “I love giving new people a shot,” points out Perry, who appears in the movie along with award-winning actresses Phylicia Rashad and Cicely Tyson. “She is one of the most finely tuned actresses. She can hold her own.”
Rounding out the cast are Bresha Webb, Mehcad Brooks, Adrian Pasdar, Matthew Law, Donovan Christie, Jr., Walter Fauntleroy and Angela Marie Rigsby.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margena A. Christian, Ed.D., is a distinguished lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The former EBONY senior editor and JET features editor is the author of Empire: The House That John H. Johnson Built (The Life & Legacy of Pioneering Publishing Magnate). Christian also wrote Perry’s first cover story for a national magazine, which appeared in JET in 2003. The article was titled “Tyler Perry: Meet the Man Behind the Urban Theater Character Madea.”