The mogul is not the first African American to helm a studio but no one has done it at his level.
Oscar Micheaux, regarded as the first major black filmmaker, established a film and book company in 1918. Actor-director Tim Reid (“WKRP in Cincinnati”) and his wife, Daphne Maxwell Reid, established New Millennium Studios in Petersberg, Va., in 1997 and ran the 60-acre studio until its sale last year. Robert Townsend (“Hollywood Shuffle”) purchased a campus, Hollywood Professional School, in 1990 and renamed it Tinsel Townsend Studios. (The facility was destroyed in an earthquake in the mid 1990s.)
Perry has made it a point to control and own his brand. He had considered launching his own TV network before signing an exclusive production deal in 2013 with Winfrey’s OWN network.
His earliest productions were crafted on a couple of sound stages he had purchased. The first Tyler Perry Studios sat on 60 acres occupied by multiple buildings he converted in the city’s Greenbriar area.
“No matter what I did, I was very adamant that I had to own it,” Perry says, settling into a lavish office that included a grand piano and pictures of him with President Obama and Winfrey. “Even if I didn’t have the budget of the big shows or the movies, owning the copyright was so important so that I could eventually build something to this magnitude, to build what you’re seeing now.”
Situated on the grounds is a district featuring 37 houses and buildings built between 1889 and 1910. The 200 acres of greenspace includes golf course fairways, ponds and woodlands. Plans are to build at least 14 sound stages, with the largest one measuring about 60,000 square feet and containing a water tank. The base will also have backlots and major practical sets.
His quest to be a champion for African Americans may cause some inside and outside black creative circles, who have lashed out against his brand, to reassess their views about him and his fare. In past years, Perry has come under fire from artists such as Spike Lee, scholars and others who have charged him with specializing in low-brow humor that spotlights over-the-top black characters and ethnic stereotypes.
Those critiques have done little to dent Perry’s popularity with his formidable fan base, which has remained supportive and loyal. National tours of his plays, in which he plays Madea, consistently sell out. His OWN shows helped reverse the fortunes of that network, which had suffered a stream of executive upheavals, programming missteps and lackluster ratings since its 2011 launch.
Perry is keenly aware that his projects have sparked debate.
“To be honest, I try not to see as much of the criticism as I can. But, of course, some of it gets through. Of course it’s hurtful. I’m thinking, They’re right to some degree, But I’m always looking for truth in that criticism. And I know the answers to why I made those choices. There are choices and sacrifices that had to be made for my audiences, who have been extremely giving and kind over the years as I grew and learned and made mistakes. They stood by me. That’s where I lay my head when those moments happen.
If you look at everything I do — even in ‘Boo, there’s a message, and it’s always ‘faith, family, forgiveness.’ That’s the greatest gift that I’ve been given. I can get a message to the very people I grew up with, the millions who love what I do. I can get a message to them when others can’t. I can wrap it in a comedy, I can wrap it in a drama. So it becomes entertaining but still gives hope.”
He plans to keep working on projects even as his business profile grows. He also has an ultimate plan for Tyler Perry Studios. He wants to leave it to his 2-year-old son, Aman, who he called “a life-changer” and “a healer.”
“This has been about keeping my path, keeping my lane and knowing where I’m going. Nobody has been given this opportunity, particularly a person of color, so I have to push harder and further because it isn’t just about me. And now having a son —the cutest thing in the world — I have to have something to pass on to him.”
By GREG BRAXTON, LA Times
-Auspicious Living Magazine