/  11.24.2021
WATCH

S1 E4 | Tyler Perry (Part 1)

00:22:07

 

A lot can be said about Tyler Perry. The media mogul, actor, writer, and director has left his indelible mark on the entertainment industry far surpassing his wildest dreams, and defying every hurdle placed in his way. From putting on shows in small theaters across the south to owning a film studio in Atlanta employing countless people, Perry’s journey has been nothing less than incredible. On a new episode of “Love and Respect with Killer Mike,” the icon and Madea creator reflects on his journey thus far, why he never cared to “cross over,” and why he continues to lean on the themes of love, forgiveness, and Christianity in both his work and his life.

It was this love and Christian spirit that guided Perry to act when COVID-19 hit. Overnight, events were canceled, production on shows and movies stopped, and we got a first-hand look at how the haves and have-nots were going to spend the next 18+ months. Rather than jet to a private island, the Emmy-award-winning producer doubled down on Tyler Perry Studios, personally creating a 30-page protocol that kept his people safe and employed. “I could have [gone] to the Bahamas through this whole thing,” he says. “But I had this moment of clarity, ‘If you do that, what about all of these people?’” He considers those people his family, his “ride or dies” — many of whom are getting second chances at life or learning a new skill that they might not have had access to on a traditional Hollywood studio lot. It is that exact difference in thinking that makes the studio so different, and why Perry chose Atlanta when he started gaining nation-wide attention. “The south has always nurtured me, and given me the truth that you can’t get in NYC or Hollywood,” he shares with Killer Mike. “I love the truth you’re going to get here in the south.”

That nurturing and truth Perry has received from his community is also why he never strays from the types of stories he tells. One thing you’re going to get with a Tyler Perry production is unapologetic Blackness — Black characters, Black families, Black themes, Black actors and actresses. He reflects on one question he has been asked repeatedly over the course of his career: “When are you going to cross over?”

“Cross over to what? To appeal to white people?” he asks. “I always found that [question] so offensive because I don’t need to appeal to anybody except the people I am already appealing to.

One undeniable piece of that appeal is his dedication to telling stories about Black women, especially. The entire Tyler Perry empire started with one memorable character: Madea. Mabel “Madea” Earlene Simmons (née Baker/Murphy) is a six-foot-tall, chain-smoking, tough-loving grandmother. And she is a direct reflection of the women who were instrumental in Perry’s life. He says, “My mother was definitely a part of it, [and] my aunt Mayola. These women were so powerful and strong and they had so much pain and character.” He considers his long-running career playing Madea as an homage to those women — An opportunity to say “thank you.”

The women in his life didn’t just provide inspiration for the characters, but the Christian themes observed in Perry’s work come from his mother. The mogul acknowledges that he is Christian and that foundation was built from a young age, when he would attend church weekly with his family. But even for being a life-long Christian, Perry’s work isn’t overly evangelical. Even Madea is known to switch the words around in the bible verses she quotes on stage and isn’t afraid to use some “harsh” words to get her point across. Rather, Perry sees his work as providing people with an option for what worked for him. He says: “Whether you accept [God] or not, that’s not my deal…I am not here to force that on you. Just consider it.”

He credits his relationship with God with not only getting him to where he is today, but also helping him forgive people who caused him pain along the way. Perry has made it no secret that he suffered abuse at a young age, and abuse has been an ongoing theme across his plays, shows, and movies. But so has forgiveness. “Unforgiveness holds you, it gives people power, and why would you let someone who hurt you have that power on you?” He asks. Leading by example, the father-of-one has been open about forgiving his own, who abused him for many years during his youth. The crux of this forgiveness is understanding that while the abuse he suffered was horrific, his father was a product of his time and circumstances. Perry says, “He was born to a 14-year-old, worked in the fields all day, was beat and hurt…and I wonder what happened to him?”

This is one of the most prevalent ongoing themes in Perry’s life: compassion. It drives him to employ former felons, sponsor an entire group of Philadelphia-area children to Disneyland after being snubbed by a local organization, provide funding across 34 different charities under the umbrella of the Perry Foundation, and more. Regardless of the lack of compassion shown to him growing up, he refuses to do anything but pay it forward, choosing to give back to the communities that first gave to him and honoring the people who made his success possible. He adds, “I am grateful for it, I am grateful to be here…the ancestors chose me, and I am grateful.”

 

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