Tyler Perry: An Inspirational Journey to Greatness

By Edwin Buggage

It has been quite a journey for Tyler Perry, a kid growing up in Uptown New Orleans to a working-class family.  The place where many of the characters we have come to know and love originated. Today, this native New Orleanian is based in Atlanta, and is the owner of Tyler Perry Studios, a full production studio. He is the first African-American to own a major studio outright. In his career which now spans over two decades, he’s become an entertainment heavyweight who’s conquered the worlds of stage, television and film with an estimated net worth of 600 million dollars, he seems to be gifted with the Midas touch. Data News Weekly recently caught up with Perry to speak to him about his new film “Boo 2: A Madea Halloween” his life growing up in New Orleans, overcoming obstacles, fatherhood and how his life and success can inspire others to dream big.
Reflections from Home
On this day Tyler is dressed casually in black and wearing a newsboy cap and glasses. Sitting in a director’s chair, he begins the conversation by talking about how it feels to be home.  “It feels good. I don’t come back as much anymore, coming back is a little bit different after my mother passed.  It’s a bit bittersweet because I have so many great memories,” with a tone that is serious and reflective as he speaks of his mother Willie Maxine Perry, who died in 2009. Continuing, he speaks of transitioning to a place of peace which will allow him to come home and enjoy himself, “Right now I am trying to get to a place where I can have a good time when I return, but I cared so much for her.”
But true to our culture, as we mourn we also celebrate those who have transitioned. And in this spirit, his somber tone and expression is replaced by a smile as he laughs and recalls celebrations and the importance of family growing up in New Orleans. “Boo 2: A Madea Halloween” is a movie about celebrating the holiday, but I don’t remember a favorite one growing up because we didn’t celebrate much, but I remember one year coming out of the house in a sheet.” Then switching to his Madea voice he says quoting his mom. “If you don’t get that damn sheet off your head and having all these Black folks wondering what the hell is wrong with you. You look like the KKK.”
The holidays are a great time for the people of the City who always find a reason to celebrate as only New Orleanians do. Growing up near St. Charles Avenue where the parades roll during Carnival season he recalls, “We celebrated all the time; Mardi Gras, every holiday, we got together and had a great time this is the great thing about being from here is that we always find a reason to celebrate.”
Art with a Heart
While the Franchise is over the top funny, his work is also filled with poignant topics that effect people ranging from physical and sexual abuse, the importance of family and God, single fatherhood, HIV and a host of other important issues. “The Madea stuff is pretty standard; I want a lot of big laughs, big silly stuff; but I also want to put slight messages that people can use in their lives that lead to solutions. In this latest movie I also deal with parenting and co-parenting and having balance when raising kids. I am thinking about that more now that I have my own son.”
Family, Fatherhood and Faith: A Recipe for Success
As the father of a son, Aman Tyler Perry, who counts Oprah Winfrey and Cicely Tyson as his godparents, he says that being a dad has taken his art and life in a new direction. Behind his glasses his eyes beam with pride and his voice strikes a hopeful note, “It has completely changed my life. I am not only seeing the world through my eyes as a 48-year-old, but also an almost 3-year-old.”  He continued, “every time I think of something in my own life I think of how it will affect him. Every time I think of the state of the world and the challenges in this country, I think about how it will impact him when he gets older. It definitely impacts the work and influences a lot of the things I do because of my love for him.”
We laugh as I tell him how relatable Madea and her humor is being from New Orleans. In her I see my own aunts and uncles at family gatherings. And that while funny in general, there are things about these characters that are particularly specific to New Orleans and its people. Speaking on the Madea Phenomenon and the other characters he creates he says, “They are real people and people know them. They know Madea, they know Joe.” Smiling and shaking his head he says, “Man, Joe is out of control in this new film, people know them like people in their family, that’s why they can relate to them so much. That’s why they’ve been around all these years.”
Spreading Your Wings and Getting Over a Fear of Flying
Tyler Perry’s life is one that will be always connected to the City of his birth. Through these characters and his stories, it seems wherever he goes, the experiences that shaped him will always be influencers as he shares them with the world. The young boy, who overcame adversity, grew wings and is now flying to new heights. While loving his City, he wishes more people would look at life beyond their neighborhood or city. Perry feels that it’s ok to grow and experience new things; something he says was key to him becoming the success that he is today.  “There’s a whole world out there; New Orleans is a great town and great City but I would beg my people here at home to expose themselves to other situations in life. Like, just don’t be limited by the block you came from. That was part of the problem with me and a lot of my friends when I was young. We were limited by the block we came from, we didn’t get out and explore; we didn’t meet other people, so our vision was limited of what we could do and achieve. But I realized after meeting people from different backgrounds that life has so much more to offer than what’s was around me and that through hard work, perseverance and prayer that it is possible to make my dream a reality.”
Perry has been upfront about many of his life struggles, but today he stands triumphant as his life and art serve as inspiration for many to emulate. “Just the very fact I made it out of all I’ve been through. That should be inspiration for anybody who’s going through anything. Just knowing that a lot of faith, a lot of prayer and a tremendous amount of hard work brought me out of situations that I thought I could not make it through. I want that to be an example for anyone who is trying to get out of something difficult or has a dream. I want people to look at my life as an example of overcoming strife to life a better life. If I can do it anybody can.”

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