Tyler Perry is an entertainment force to be reckoned with.
On Monday, Oct. 1, the actor, playwright, filmmaker and comedian was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, adjacent to the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Then on Saturday, Oct. 5, he officially opens his massive new Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia.
Stars, friends and collaborators Idris Elba (Daddy's Little Girls), Crystal Fox (The Haves and the Have Nots) and Kerry Washington (For Colored Girls) were on hand to pay tribute to Perry (see pictures here).
Born in New Orleans, Perry was raised by an abusive father and a churchgoing mother (who concealed the truth about Perry's biological father). He also suffered abuse at the hands of others during his childhood.
After moving to Atlanta, Perry began writing plays, eventually segueing into movies. Serious success came with the creation -- for the the 2000 play, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, later a 2009 movie -- of the character Mabel Simmons, a k a Medea. Played by Perry, she's a tough, elderly, not particularly religious African-American woman, prone to outrageous capers, chronicled in several movies.
In an interview with NPR, Perry claimed that "she is the exactly the PG version of my mother and my aunt, and I loved having an opportunity to pay homage to them."
But, Perry told Beliefnet that not having Madea be religious was intentional:
Madea is a character who knows nothing about salvation, because this character is so funny, I didn't want to have it based in Christianity, because it would turn off a lot of people. But it's been able to draw so many people in to listen to what this character has to say and provoke thought for so many people--just being a mirror: Do I behave that way? Or, am I this way in a relationship? So then people can say, "Okay, do I need to learn to forgive this person?" Or, "Do I need to pray more about this?" It's an opportunity for me to say all of those things through laughter.
Perry has produced and/or directed many non-Madea movies, along with TV series, while continuing to act. He's also authored two books: 2016's Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life, and 2017's Higher Is Waiting.
In the same Beliefnet interview where he discussed Madea, Perry talked about his personal faith:
The thing about it is, I don't know why it's never talked about in film. There are people [making films] who believe, but I think they're people who believe in the closet. They believe very quietly. There's this huge separation of church and state. I'm not afraid to mix the two. I'm not afraid to have a character say, "I am a Christian," or, "I believe in God," because I think they represent real people on this earth.
I am a Christian, I am a believer, and I know had I not been a person of faith, I couldn't be here in this place, and I wouldn't be walking the path that I'm on now. And I think the greater good of the path I'm on now is to teach people to learn to forgive and move on, in a way that's done through the healing power of humor.
Perry has also included Christian themes in his work and apparently once was a preacher. In a talk at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, related at BlackChristianNews.com, Perry revealed:
“There’s a little bit about me you may not know ’cause everybody knows Madea, the plays and a bunch of other stuff but you may not know that when I was in my late teens, early 20s I went to seminary school. I was a minister in my church. I actually preached and prayed for people,” Perry said at the start of his 20-minute message at the Texas megachurch.
“And I remember doing my first sermon and the pastor got up after I was finished. It was so bad all he could say was ‘if God called you, he’ll qualify you.’ So I prayed and I said ‘God what is that about,'” Perry continued as the congregation erupted in laughter.
“And the Lord’s voice spoke to me and said ‘your ministry won’t be in a pulpit.’ I said ‘Oh, Thank God,” Perry, 48, explained. “But through television and films. And even though sometimes, I’d do movies that are not Christian movies, I am still a Christian but I’m also an artist who wants to do a lot of things.”
It's true that many of Perry's movies and TV shows have featured adult themes and comedy that's not suitable for a family audience. Also, although he's been with Ethiopian-born model, activist and filmmaker Gelila Bekele since 2007, and had a son with her in 2014, they are still not married -- which has upset some fans.
But it's undeniable that Perry has brought himself out of difficult circumstances to find success -- and he has used that success to help his adopted hometown of Atlanta and many other people.
Here's his acceptance speech at the star ceremony:
Although it hasn't had its official opening, Tyler Perry's Studio -- on the site of the 330-acre former Fort McPherson military base, acquired in 2015 -- the studio has already been used for Perry's own productions, along with AMC's The Walking Dead and such films as HBO's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and the hit feature Black Panther.
Here's a aerial view, shot in July 2018, of the studio complex (official site here):
Image: Tyler Perry mixes it up with media on the red carpet at the 82nd Academy Awards March 7, 2010 in Hollywood
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.