I don’t watch any of Tyler Perry’s TV shows. I can’t. I’ve seen two of his movies, “Daddy’s Little Girls,” which I was covering for a magazine assignment, and “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” which I was coerced into watching at a New Year’s Eve party.
His comedy is a mix of buffoonery, slapstick and broad humor that insults the intelligence at a level somewhere between “The Three Stooges” and “Amos ‘n’ Andy.” It’s predictable and almost entirely predicated on stereotypes and simplicity.
I met Perry in 2007 at the premiere for “Daddy’s Little Girls,” which was a semi-memorable movie that did what all of his films do – was made for cheap and more than doubled its cost at the box office. He couldn’t have been nicer, but our meeting was generally forgettable because it was the night that I fell head-over-heels in love with Gabrielle Union.
One thing I do remember about my brief encounter with Perry was how accommodating he was. Our meeting happened at a now defunct Hollywood club where I found him sitting around a table in an intentionally dim section at the back of the venue. His party was about six people and included Tasha Mack, who was in the film, and an incoherently drunk Barry Bonds (yes, that Barry Bonds).
Perry apologized profusely for Bonds, answered my questions and unlike most celebrities I had interviewed before and most I have interviewed since, when we finished he didn’t rush to send me on my way. He just sat back, as if I had always been a part of the party and my presence was to be expected, and went on talking.
I was reminded of this short episode when I heard that Perry had partnered with Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, to find two men of color who had been reported missing. Perry not only put out a call for action, but offered $100,000 of his own money to anyone with information that helped find the men.
It reminded me that we so often fail to appreciate people like Tyler Perry; people who do what we say we want all of the bruhs who “make it” to do – not forget where they came from, give back to the community and pay it forward to the people who helped them get where they are. Perry, throughout his career, has always made a point to do all of those things and he’s been a poster boy for how to blow up without selling your soul.
Despite his enormous Hollywood success he continues to make his films in Atlanta, the city where he got his start. He owns and continues to operate Tyler Perry Studios, a 200,000 square-foot colossus with five sound stages, a post-production facility, a back lot, a 400-seat theater and a private screening room overlooking Southwest Atlanta at 3300 Continental Colony Parkway.
He still works with many of the same actors and actresses who got their start in his plays and he’s made careers for hundreds – if not thousands – of black folks in the entertainment industry, in front of and behind the camera.
“Black Hollywood is so small,” Union told me at the “Daddy’s Little Girls” premiere, “so it’s nice to have opportunities like this…I call it FUBU [for us, by us] filmmaking.”
Even Louis Farrakhan has praised him.
“When you look at Tyler Perry’s movies, you see the brilliance of T.D. Jakes, a spiritual giant,” Farrakhan told The Final Call. “You see the majesty of human problems acted out. So you could sit in the theater and see yourself in your madness, in your gladness, in your goodness, in your evil, then come out of that experience, for a $15 ticket and some popcorn, and say, ‘Wow, I feel better.’
“So this New Year is a shout-out to the giant called Tyler Perry. A spiritual giant, a magnificent human being, and I pray that this year his art, his greatness, will shine even more in healing our people through mass projection of drama through films and plays.”
Most notably, though, Perry seems to genuinely care about not just black people, but the whole of the world around him.
At the press conference he held with Jealous and Sharpton, he not only offered a cash reward to help find the missing men who are believed to have been the victims of police malfeasance, but he showed his compassion.
“This is injustice,” he said, as he held hands with the mother of Terrance Williams, one of the missing men, throughout the conference. “I don’t think this is about race or social status as much as it is about, no matter who we are, we should be outraged that this is happening in America in 2013.”
He’s been attempting to bring media attention to the cases of Williams and Felipe Santos, a Mexican day laborer who went missing from Naples, Fla., after last being seen with a now-fired sheriff’s deputy, for years. Both Williams and Santos have been missing since 2004.
In July 2009, Perry sponsored 65 children from a Philadelphia day camp on a trip to Disney World after reading that a suburban swim club had shunned them. He wrote on his website, “I want them to know that for every act of evil that a few people will throw at you, there are millions more who will do something kind for them.”
In a world full of bad guys and anti-heroes whose glorified bad behavior are all anyone can talk about, it’s a shame we don’t take more time to talk about the goodness of people like Tyler Perry.
He is a decent person who makes decent films and television shows in an industry full of indecency. I may not much care for his work, but I admire the man, what he’s done and what he stands for.
And really, his movies aren’t that bad.