Greetings again from the darkness. For those who have scoffed at the “Madea” movies, or the periodic screen appearances of Tyler Perry in supporting roles, this documentary from Gelila Bekele (she and Perry share a child) and Armani Ortiz will open your eyes to the money-making machine and unstoppable force that is Tyler Perry. Clearly more of a tribute to his accomplishments than a deep dive into the man, his business, and his life, the film leaves us with full respect for what he has accomplished, as well as an understanding of an industry mogul who maintains complete control of his projects.
The opening credits play like a four-minute trailer for the movie we are about to watch, and that’s likely for the benefit of those who haven’t been paying attention to Perry’s ongoing success and his building of a media empire over the last two decades. Time is spent on his childhood in New Orleans, where sadly, he was so severely mistreated by his father that he later changed his name from Emmett Perry Jr to Tyler, in order to create the emotional distance he needed.
His close friend Oprah Winfrey states that Perry “turned pain into power”, and most of the film details how he went from self-financing a small theater production to constructing the sprawling Tyler Perry Studios on a 330-acre site in Atlanta that was originally the Confederate Army base, Fort McPherson. In fact, the 2019 grand opening of the studios is used as a bit of defining structure throughout, although it times, bouncing back and forth gives a sense of redundancy.
The studios are quite impressive, as is the fact that Perry accomplished this outside of the traditional Hollywood system. And other than the remarkable ‘rags-to-riches’ story, it’s Perry’s ability to blaze his own unconventional trail that garners the most respect. He recognized the underserved and underestimated Black audience and committed to providing material for “his audience”. Beginning with his first movie, DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE (2005), Perry worked his plan. While the critics bashed, the film cashed. Lionsgate President Michael Paseornek took notice, and again, Perry bucked the system by demanding creative control, ownership of his work, and establishing new parameters for TV series and syndication.
Perry’s work ethic is dwelled upon here, as is his love for his mother Willie Maxine Perry, who shows up in some clips and photos. Cousin Lucky Johnson offers the most insightful personal observations of what Perry’s traumatic childhood was like, lending credence to the remarkable success. Perry’s determination is beyond reproach, as is his mental toughness and ability to stick to his focus on control and ownership. The music/score of the film is frequently intrusive and overbearing, often distracting from the story, and the film is probably 20 to 30 minutes longer than it should be. However, taking a love-fest approach makes sense in this case, as Tyler Perry has progressed from dreamer to achiever, and the lessons are crystal clear.
Releases on Prime Video on November 17, 2023