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Tyler Perry: Created His Own Lane in Hollywood

How betting on himself lead him to create his own entertainment empire.

Tyler Perry received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - 10 WWBNS, 2020

“While you fighting for a seat at the table, I’ll be in Atlanta making my own!” Those are the words passionately stated by the writer-producer Tyler Perry after accepting the Ultimate Icon Award at the 2019 BET Awards. His portfolio includes over 20 feature films (Madea franchise, Why Did I Get Married, Acrimony, and A Fall From Grace) and several TV dramas and sitcoms (House of Payne, Meet the Browns, The Haves and the Have Nots, Sistas, and The Oval). He built his seat and table along with a mansion after opening his 300-acre film production studio. From a life filled with child abuse and homelessness to becoming the latest billionaire in America, Perry defines the rags to riches story.

However, his path to becoming a movie mogul is not without its’ share of criticism from entertainment critics, contemporaries, and viewers. Many are quick to point out the common theme of “negative stereotypes” of black people that prance around his films, including depicting black women as weak, irrational, and in need of a light-skinned savior to swoop in and save the day. Not to mention Medea, the gun-toting, no filter matriarch that is a catalyst to much of Perry’s success. While some love her no-nonsense and wise advice in tough love and life, others see her as another “mammy” character for non-Black Americans to laugh and jeer. While the two have since settled their differences, Spike Lee had a long feud with the Medea star calling his films “coonery and buffoonery.” The lack of staff writers giving their input on his stories also draws sharp criticism from his peers, including Lil Rel Howery.

While many might see his body of work as “low-class” and “subpar production value,” no one can deny the lessons to learn from his rise to fame:

Your start in life does not determine your destination: Perry grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, in a toxic environment with a physically abusive father and encountered sexual abuse from various adults. At one point, he was living inside his car while writing, directing, and starring in his first play, I know I’ve Been Changed. After gaining critical acclaim, he moved on to his next project, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, which started his most beloved and polarizing character, Madea. His plays would move to the big screen and gross over half a billion dollars in revenue.

Become the bridge for others to cross and succeed: During his speech at the 2019 BET Awards, Perry uses the analogy of making his mom laugh and helping a man cross the street to describe his willingness to help others cross to success. Major stars such as Idris Elba, Tessa Thompson, Jill Scott, Teyana Taylor, Tamera, and David Mann got their big break from one of Perry’s productions.

Ownership is vital: While it is common practice for film studios to own the rights to a creative’s work, Perry has the advantage of wealth since he owns all of his films, TV shows, and plays. His studio lot gives him the bargaining chip he needs to work out deals that work in his favor. Companies such as Disney AMC and others are now filming on the former confederate army base. He also has an equity stake in the latest streaming service, BET+. Sure, some creators are better than him, but how many can say they own the very content they created.

Tyler Perry will go down as one of the most controversial creators in the history of entertainment. Whether you adore or loathe his vision of Black America, his presence in Hollywood is matched by only a few. He achieved the American dream by betting on himself and putting in the work. Perhaps those more talented than Perry should do the same?

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