Tyler Perry on Building an Empire and Bringing Madea Back
“The end game was owning the studio and hiring thousands of people and while everybody else is talking about diversity, I’m actually making something happen” - Tyler Perry
by Crystal Shaw-King, October 20, 2016
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Tyler Perry attends the world premiere of "BOO! A Madea Halloween" held at ArcLight Cinerama Dome on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP)
It’s been three years since we’ve seen her curly gray hair and big glasses. Three years since we’ve heard her sassy voice. And three years since she’s doled out her one-of-kind advice that usually involves her pistol, and a couple of choice swear words.
Luckily for Madea fans, Tyler Perry has donned the familiar costume and infectious voice and is poised to dazzle audiences across the country with his latest release, Boo! A Madea Halloween, a title that was originally a joke in Chris Rock’s film, “Top Five.” It was Lionsgate that reached out to Perry with the belief that he might be able to turn the joke title into a real film
. After some long contemplation, because Perry is admittedly not into “witches and demons,” he says he finally thought of an idea that would work.
The last time moviegoers got a blast of Madea’s humor was in 2013’s A Madea Christmas. So why did the Temptation director decide to bring her back when it seemed that he might have put her away for good?
“People love her. I went out on the road to see what was going on and see if people were still feeling it and we were still selling out. The crowds were going crazy. I don’t have the right to walk away from it because the audiences have been demanding it for all these years. It’s been over 18 years now.” Perry recounted.
From writer, to director, to actor, to producer Perry’s wears many hats, but one of his most important new jobs, is being a father to his two year old son, Aman. His son’s mother, model and actress Gelila Bekele is, according to Perry, “amazing with my son.” He says she brings him to Atlanta from New York when he’s working so that they can have family time, which for Perry is “very very important.”
For an actor who has played a father in several films, Boo! A Madea Halloween marks the first time Perry is actually a dad in real life. And he’s once again using his characters to spread a message—cloaked in faith, family and love—about the power of parenting.
“For me it was about parenting, it’s about taking control of your kids and looking back at not how we totally did things back in the day, because a lot of that was wrong,” Perry explains. “But there’s got to be a balance somewhere between Madea’s style of parenting and Brian’s (his character’s) style of parenting.”
The comedy, called the funniest Madea movie yet according to Perry, centers on what happens when Brain calls on the help of Madea to look after his mischievous daughter Tiffany (Diamond White) while he takes an out-of-town business trip on Halloween. Madea brings her cronies along to help with the babysitting duties, but when the high schooler sneaks out of the house to attend a college frat party, Madea goes straight H.A.M. on everybody. As payback, the fraternity attempts to scare the bejesus out of Madea and her crew. And of course, comedy ensues.
In an attempt to dig into the moral compass of his younger audiences, Perry decided to use a plethora of successful YouTubers who have millions of young follows in the film. His hope is that tweens and teens alike, who take in the Halloween themed PG-13 comedy for a fright and a laugh, might also come out with a lesson “without sounding like an after-school special,” he explained.
Boo! A Madea Halloween is definitely not an after-school special. In fact, Perry had to dial down some of the humor to drop from an R rating to PG-13. Because when you have Tyler Perry production favorites like Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), star of several of his sold-out plays, Hattie (Patrice Lovely) from Love Thy Neighbor – teaming up with Madea, Joe and Brian (all played by Perry) you know the racy and raunchy meter will occasionally bounce into the red.
Take Joe, for example. Perry said that character grew out of her personal experience. “I was hanging out with some family members and that’s how they were acting and I said ‘ you know what, I’m just going to let him cut loose because I’ve been holding him back too long. I’m just going to let him be who the hell he is. Because everybody knows that uncle who’s not trying to sit around being politically correct. He’ll call bullsh-t in a minute.” Perry explained.
With the multi-talented filmmaker playing Joe, Madea and Brian—sometimes all in one scene—things can get a bit sticky.
“It seems like we’re having a whole bunch of fun but it’s really intense and serious,” Perry explained. “What happens is I go in as Joe and I’m doing all the jokes with stand ins. Then I go stand in another spot and I do it as Madea, then I get dressed as Brian and stand in another spot and we have to do it over again. It’s really intense but the end product is pretty damn funny if you ask me.”
There’s no doubt that Madea movies have a built-in fan base—A Madea Christmas grossed $53 million at the box office, after all. But the uber-successful filmmaker hasn’t built his fortune without his share of criticism for donning the dress and his portrayal of Black folks in general in his films throughout his meteoric rise. To those critics, Perry’s clap back game is strong.
“I do this because the audience loves it and also it has been a great help in allowing me get to the goal of the success that I’ve been looking for. Too many people spend too much time looking at the small part of it rather than looking at the big picture and that’s been a lot of especially people of color, Black people,” he said. “We spend too much time looking at the small and the immediate and not looking at the big picture or working toward an end game.”
For Perry it was never about wearing the dress, but what “the dress” was actually building. Through his films and television work, he’s accomplished something no other African American television producer/filmmaker has ever done.
“The end game was owning the studio and hiring thousands of people and while everybody else is talking about diversity, I’m actually making something happen. If you look at the DGA (Directors Guild of America) reporting that one-fourth of all diversity in cable television was because of me, one man. How could 25 percent be because of one man? Well, the reason is I’m not sitting around focusing talking about a damn dress. I’m making things change and making things happen.”
And making things happen is exactly what he’s doing. Perry’s brand new 330-acre Atlanta studio is the largest that any Black American person has ever owned. In fact, it’s even bigger than the long-established Warner Brothers and Walt Disney Studios lots. Both the upcoming HBO film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and AMC’s The Walking Dead are currently filming at Perry’s property; and it’s also where he shot his TLC drama Too Close to Home and filmed this latest Madea movie.
With so many irons in the fire one might wonder how Perry manages.
“I have a really good team of people that help me hold all of this up,” he revealed. “I’ll go away and write. Come back and direct and produce. I’ve got a great team that has everything ready, so when I get there I’m not waiting around. There’s no wasted time for us. That’s my biggest thing. I’d rather you waste my money than waste my time.”
Tyler Perry’s brand of success is unique and uncharted. His net worth reportedly soars around the half a billion dollar mark. He’s created a lane for Black filmmakers that wasn’t there before he arrived. As he said, he’s employed thousands of people and is responsible for a monumental amount of on-screen diversity on, both big and small. His studio has also helped to fuel Atlanta’s status as a major shooting location. With his massive success, it begs the questions: Does Perry ever wonder if, as a Christian, it’s too much?
“I felt overwhelmed when I first went there. Like ‘am I supposed to be doing this?’ It’s not a question of ‘am I supposed to have it’ because I always feel that I’m supposed to have it because I look at people like Pablo Escobar who was a notorious drug dealer who murdered lots of people and had planes and island and all those sorts of things. If people like that can have all those things than why can’t I right?” he asked.
“But my question and my prayer is always ‘am I supposed to be doing this and am I supposed to be doing this now?’ And with this new studio it was definitely a pure ‘yes’ that I am because I didn’t even ask for it the way it came to me I knew it was bigger than me and I knew it was God,” he explained. “ I just have to surrender to it and I give 100 percent to it, do all I can with it and that’s all I can do … that’s all I can do.”
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