More on Tyler Perry: African American Actor and Producer

John ArmstrongFilm

After seeing several of Tyler Perry’s earlier films I began to read more about the man and his life. I signed up for his emails at his Web site and have followed his career with some interest. I soon came to see that Perry was a man under attack from many quarters. There are people who hate this man. This made me more than interested in finding out why.

To underscore how much some people hate Tyler Perry I did a good bit of Internet reading after seeing his most recent movie, The Family That Preys Together. I came across so much hated and rumor that it was utterly amazing. One critic wrote: “Perry is a cross dressing Black man hating clown.” And whole Web sites exist that suggest Perry is a Gay man.

Erik Lundegaard, a critic on MSNBC, wrote in March of  this year the following story:

In June 2006, when the bulk of papers belonging to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were about to be auctioned at Sotheby’s and possibly into private hands, Mayor Shirley Franklin and the city of Atlanta preempted the bidding with a $32 million offer—ensuring that the papers stayed both in the city and for the public. According to the New York Times, Ms. Franklin accomplished this by calling in favors from Atlanta bigwigs. Three were mentioned up front: Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola and Tyler Perry. Two international corporations and a playwright who was homeless a decade ago.

Lundegaard further says:

I’d characterize [Perry’s movies] this way: opulent soap operas with overt Christian messages and comic relief along the edges. Perry was physically abused by his father, and he spent his early adult life coming to terms with that abuse until he was able to forgive the man—and by extension himself—and this is the arc of his films: abuse, revenge, forgiveness through the grace of God. The heroine is then able to live her life fully while the impossibly bad man sinks into repentance. It’s an Oprah wish-fulfillment moment. It’s “The Color Purple.” And it’s the secret to his success.

Tyler Perry was born in New Orleans on September 14, 1969. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia (and is a huge Atlanta Braves fan which is just fine by me), where he has his own independent studio. Perry is an actor, playwright, screenwriter, director, producer and all-around American success story. In reality he should be an inspiration to the Black community but sadly he is seen by some in the same way that Bill Cosby was/is seen by his critics. Perry openly calls himself a Christian. (His critics, as I noted above, suggest that he is Gay and the Internet is filled with discussions about this, including a site where you can vote your opinion.)

The story is rather inspiring actually. In 1992 Perry was watching Oprah and decided to put his feelings down on paper, which inspired him to write about his childhood in a journal. These letters led to plays and then later to films. This is part of what makes his films so intriguing since they are often raw expressions of his real life experiences seen through a large collection of characters. In 1992 Perry moved to Atlanta where he worked in a restaurant and sold used cars. He saved $12,000 in order to stage his first play. He learned, if he discovered nothing else, to become an entrepreneur. He owns 100% of all his films and as a result is now a very wealthy man.

His first movie, Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, was produced on a budget of $5.5 million and became an unexpected hit. Its final gross box office receipts were $50.6 million, although it was a critical flop, scoring only 16% overall on Rotten Tomatoes.

Tyler Perry has a beautiful Web site at I signed up for his emails last year and read them with some interest. In writing about the opening of The Family That Preys Together Perry wrote his fans the following account this week:

It is my prayer that not only did the movie make you laugh and move you to want to enjoy every day on this earth but it is also my prayer that every dime you’ve spent to invest in me that it comes back to you one million fold. Thank you.

I wrote this movie because I was going through some things, I had family members preying on me. I had been betrayed. People that I have done more for then than they have done to help themselves broke my heart and I was so hurt by how ugly people could be. I was at a place where I didn’t trust anybody, I thought everybody was after something, and I thought nobody was sincere. I was becoming cynical and very unhappy. Lots of people look at the outside and think all is well, but sometimes it isn’t.  So, I started writing this movie after I heard a song called I HOPE YOU DANCE. I had Gladys Knight re-record it for the end of the movie. You should hear it. It talks about no matter what happens, just dance. Just dance.

All of this to say to you, life is a gift and a blessing. Don’t let people
change you. No matter what happens be wiser the next time. But, don’t let it change you. There may be people in your life that have hurt you, but don’t make the next person who has the best intentions come along and you run them away because you think they’re going to do what the last person did to you. Don’t be afraid. In life you can’t live in fear of what people will say or do.  If you lose love or a friend, then maybe you never had it.

I do not think Tyler Perry’s films are great art. And they are not films that will ever win him Academy Awards. But this does not mean Tyler Perry is not making a huge contribution to entertainment, culture and even faith in Black America and beyond. I hope you will see this new film and decide for yourself. You will not “agree” with every message given in the film but this is not a “church” movie. The closing song itself should stir something in your soul that moves you deeply regardless of what you thought about every character and the outcome. I was moved by this newest Tyler Perry film and applaud the man for his hard work and genuine expressions of culture and art.