If I were to tell you what a Pulitzer Prize was and then told you Kendrick Lamar won the award; Would you believe me? If I were to tell you what a Nobel Peace Prize was and then told you Bob Dylan won the award; Would you believe me? If I were to tell you that basketball superstar Kobe Bryant won an Academy Award for the best animated short film; Would you believe me? If I showed you a picture of a man who looked like David Andrew Burd and asked you to guess his occupation; Would you believe me if I said he was a successful rapper Lil Dicky? Finally, A man named Tyler Perry is best known for his portrayal of Madea a tough, yet over-the-top comical elderly woman. What are the chances you think he would be the first black man to own a movie studio with no corporation or partners involved? And yet he did.
I am reminded of a line from the 2011 film Green Lantern:
Your will turns thought into reality. To master the ring you must learn to focus your will and create what you see in your mind. The ring’s limits are only what you can imagine. -Tomar Re (voiced by Geoffry Rush)
It is amazing how many actors start in theater. I realized, the majority of the films Tyler Perry directed were adapted from his plays. But what makes me admire him is his perseverance. If you take the time to learn about his life through countless profound interviews, it was no walk in the park. His life had been a labyrinth of struggle, heartache, and pain. He was able to earn a GED and found a silver lining through writing.
After moving to Atlanta, he used his life savings to create his first play. The reviews were not overly positive. But Perry kept working on his craft and getting better. He finally struck gold and used his first financial success to make his film debut, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. He would later direct his first film Madea’s Family Reunion.
What is interesting about many of Tyler Perry’s films is that while many of them have received moderate to negative reviews, they’ve all turned a profit. When you think about it, Perry is given a film budget and he makes the film. He is tasked with earning the money back in box office sales like in any other film.
Whatever the budget is, you take into account the marketing budget if there is one. For instance, if Tyler Perry is given 6 million dollars to make a film, and the film made 60 million in box office sales despite average negative reviews, then bravo Mr. Perry. He just made his money back, the studio is pleased and Perry can make more films. Perry is smart for telling stories, whether they are comedies or dramas, for a minimal budget, yielding a great financial return. Jason Blum, the horror mastermind behind his company Blumhouse might agree as well.
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A fun fact: Viola Davis, Idris Elba, and Sofia Vergara had appeared in a Tyler Perry film. But Perry’s films employ many people of color, especially black people in an industry where that can be a complication. Perry making films for not a huge budget allows him more creative freedom to tell the stories he wants to tell. Perry is a man of faith so there are many themes with such ideals as forgiveness, dignity, self-worth, abuse, and dysfunctional families. I think many people who are critical of Perry’s films are not drawn to such themes or maybe they find it off-putting or feel they can’t relate in any way to a film with a mostly black cast. I like Tyler Perry infusing his authenticity and voice into each of his films.
Tyler Perry isn’t afraid to join other productions lending his acting talents in 2009’s Star Trek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, and Gone Girl. His portrayal of Madea has made him a star but a subject of much criticism early when he debut the character. Despite that, he helmed numerous television projects while collaborating with Oprah Winfrey when she started her own Cable channel OWN (let that sink in.) and ViacomCBS.
Tyler Perry made the headlines in 2019 when he relocated his studio to Southwest Atlanta to a massive 330-acre former Fort McPherson complex. This makes him the first black man to own a studio. The ceremony is worth watching. Will Smith posted a video on his Youtube channel that highlights history in the making. The fact remains, that Marvel Studios has to pay Tyler Perry every time they want to use his Studio to film one of their projects. LET THAT SINK IN.
One thing for certain, Tyler Perry let faith, hard work, and persistence be his guide. He was able to tell the stories he wants to tell while being business savvy. His success allowed more opportunities to work in other mediums and with people like Oprah Winfrey. He has been a lightning rod for telling stories for the culture and giving actors of color a chance to let their light shine. His dedication to his craft, despite the reviews of his filmography, has produced amazing results. I am grateful to people like Lin Manuel Miranda, Spike Lee, and Perry for changing the game.
Without commitment, you’ll never start, but more importantly, without consistency, you’ll never finish. It’s not easy. If it were easy there’d be no Kerry Washington. If it were easy there’d be no Taraji Henson, (corrects himself) P Henson, if it were easy there’d be no Octavia Spencer. But Not only that, if it were easy there’d be no Viola Davis. If it were easy there’d be no Mykelti Williamson, no Stephen McKinley Henderson, no Russell Hornsby, if it were easy there’d be no Denzel Washington. So, keep working, keep striving, never give up, fall seven times, get up eight. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. So keep moving, keep growing, and keep learning. See you at work.Denzel Washington (NAACP Image Awards 2017