Monday, May 20, 2024

With Tyler Perry Studios, Perry Makes History

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This weekend in Hollywood, the town was abuzz with box office news as Joker outperformed the studios and the critics’ expectations. But just a little over two thousand miles away in Atlanta, Georgia Tyler Perry was not so quietly making history. Though you’d never know it since the news somehow got all but drowned out by the country’s reaction to Joker.

But in case you haven’t heard Tyler Perry just opened up Tyler Perry Studios. Now here in our “post-racial” America, we might ask ourselves, why that matters. “Tyler Perry is a hack who’s never made a movie that didn’t look like he shot it over the weekend.” By the way, the source for that last quote is from a stubborn jackass, me.

Tyler Perry is the first black man to own a studio in the United States of America-ever. At all. In history. Being the first also means he is also the only studio, not justed headed by a black American but owned by one as well. Like some people I know, dear reader you might shrug and say, “Who cares!?”

Obviously Hollywood didn’t. They were too busy patting themselves on the back for the booming business of Joker. One of only two major studios who regularly make comic book movies had taken the huge risk of releasing an absurdly low budget movie, by Hollywood studio standards, and cast one of the current generations’ most well-respected actors as one of the most well known Ip properties in the Studio’s possession. Pffft all Tyler Perry did was make history while black, silly fool never stood a chance.

Besides who was at this, “opening”, anyways? Of course, Taraji P. Henson was there. Perry, whatever his faults, is one of the few directors who not only understands the joy and talent of Henson but actually strives to give her characters she clearly has fun playing. I know I know, “who cares?!”

Sure Hank Aaron, Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, Evander Holyfield, Gladys Knight, Will Smith, Usher, and Chris Tucker were in attendance. Hardly worth mentioning. Again Tyler Perry is only the first black man to ever own a major studio in the history of our country; giving new scope and depth to the cinematic possibilities and making the hilarious joke known as the “free market” more of a reality than many of my fellow white movie lovers are comfortable with.

Wait, Beyonce was there? So was Kelly Rowland? Even Michelle Williams? Are you telling me Destiny’s Child reunited for this historic and monumental occasion?

Okay fine, so maybe you’d expect them too. But Stacy Abrams, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Governor Brian Kemp. Governor Kemp is a white republican who beat out Abrams in the last election, for those who may not follow politics. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a black Democrat from California, who was one of the first members of the House to call for Impeachment, was also there.

Tyler Perry got a Republican Governor, a party that has quietly but firmly stood behind, one of the most racist Presidents in modern history, and the black woman he beat in a heated political contest, and a Congresswoman actively trying to remove the head of Kemp’s party from office, to attend the same party. For added joy, it means Governor Kemp being at Tyler Perry Studios Grand Opening also means that unlike most republican Governors, he is not only admitting that black people exist but that their votes matter.

Oh and Congressman John Lewis, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King showed up as well. No big deal. Better to talk about Todd Phillips announcing that his stand-alone film, shocker, might not be a stand-alone film after all. Understandable why popular youtube movie news channels, somehow overlooked this in order to discuss the possibilities of what the ending of a movie might mean.

Oh sure Variety, Hollywood Reporter and other trade issues talked about it. But those are inside baseball outlets, as it were. Odd how the popular movie discussion sites for movie lovers, seemingly have nothing-NOTHING-to say on the matter of a man they-we-have routinely dismissed.

I haven’t even mentioned the other people who were there. People such as Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Halle Berry, Ava DuVernay, Jill Scott, 50 Cent, Kesha, Usher, Viola Davis, and David Oyelowo. If it seems like I’m just listing names the jokes on you. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the 800 or so guests; all of them of equal stature of the ones I’ve listed.

Who cares though? Todd Phillips just broke the box office record…for October. What is White Privilege you ask? Breaking a monthly box office record, getting treated as if you reinvited the cinematic wheel, all while a majority of black artists, leaders, and thinkers converged onto one spot in Atlanta to make history on land that once held a confederate fort. White supremacy is a hell of a drug.

You read that correctly. Tyler Perry Studios is located at Fort McPherson. History sometimes has a hazy memory but the universe has a wicked sense of patient, ironic poetry. But I hear you, “Who cares?”

Make no mistake, Perry putting his studios in Atlanta, is a shot across the bow to Hollywood. A sign that reads “Hollywood is no longer the ONLY dream factory”. Tyler Perry just set up shop down south and said black people dream too and then gave them a factory in which to manufacture them.

How is it not obvious what a miraculous and paradigm-shifting thing this is? Black Lives Matter is a movement and a battle cry. It is a wail of anguish and a howl of defiance. Tyler Perry Studios represents for the first time, EVER, a chance in which black artists can tell their stories free from the wringing hands of white millionaires, liberal or otherwise.

Perhaps the silence comes from a collective fear. After all, if Tyler Perry Studios begins to crank out movie after movie produced by, directed by, written by, and starring black people or, more than likely other non-white people, then people might start taking another look at movies like Joker.

A movie where black people exist in the background, which is more than most studio films allow for, yet have no real bearing or consequence on the story whatsoever. They are seen but not heard.  Ignored and brushed aside, because, in the end, it’s Arthur Fleck, the white man who doesn’t see color’s story. “Now, Jeremiah you’re being unfair.”

What is fair? Ask yourself how often do we see movies filtered purely through the prism of black experience? If you don’t understand the gravity of that question then ask yourself how many movies have you seen filtered purely through the prism of the white experience. Spoilers one of them just broke the box office record for a random month during what is historically a dead zone in the distribution schedule.

Tyler Perry Studios sits on 330 of the most beautiful acres you ever saw. To put this in perspective, combine the studio lots of Warner Bros., Paramount, Fox, Sony, and Disney; now add 60 more acres. A warning shot, hell, Tyler Perry Studios, is an all-out declaration of intent.

Proof that Perry is, in fact, as Gayle King described him, “the most successful mogul Hollywood has ever ignored.” While we were clowning him for his cheap and amateurish filmmaking, Perry was laughing all the way into the history books. If I had a hat I’d eat it, gladly.

It’s funny that for all the crap critics, and movie pundits talked about Perry, we failed to see the similarities between Perry and another infamous figure of American Cinema, Roger Corman. Corman was known as “The Pope of Pop Cinema”. 

Corman made drive-in movies, low budget skin flicks, and mild exploitation films. Films like Dinoshark, The Big Bird Cage, Candy Stripe Nurses, and Bucket of Blood. Like Perry, he was economical in his budgets. Often accused of paying sweatshop wages he cranked these films out at a dizzying rate.

Yet, he also provided a training ground and a way into the business for the likes of Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, and Jonathan Demme. With the profits he made he founded Janus Films, a distribution company. Some of you may recognize that name if you’ve ever watched films by Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, and many other foreign films. The profits from movies like The Man With X-Ray Eyes allowed Americans to see The Seventh Seal.

Does that sound like anyone we know? Tyler Perry has gone beyond Corman’s Janus Films and went ahead and carved out a swath of land for black filmmakers for and by black filmmakers. Not content with merely spreading the word, Perry has opted instead to create the word, own the word, and sell the word. Black art owned by black artists in a way, potentially, we have never seen in all of American History.

Not satisfied to merely build and own one of the largest movie studios in the country he has gone one step further. The studio lot will have a compound for displaced LGBTQ youth and trafficked women. This isn’t just major entertainment news this is just regular good old fashioned news.

The #MeToo movement has been going on for almost a year now and no other studio has done anything close to that, even though they could easily ten times over. I mean Disney alone has six out of the ten highest-grossing films of all time which has to leave in the black when the end of the year quarterlies come about. Perry isn’t just paving the way for entertainment. He seems to be paving a new way for how a studio should interact with the world around it.

Perry has sunk a quarter of a billion dollars into his studios. It is not just an investment in the land or even Georgia business, but an investment in black art as a thing unto itself. The possibilities are endless: black tragedies, black comedies, black melodrama, black adventure films, black rom-coms, maybe even black superhero movies. He aims to do it all and is poised to succeed beyond white Hollywood, heck white America’s, expectations.

Hollywood has been hoping that eventually Perry would take the hint and leave. Unfortunately for Hollywood, he did. Tyler Perry took his fortunes and left.  Now, it seems, he’s hoping Hollywood will take the hint. He has made manifest the words of Rube Foster, “We are the ship, all else is the sea.”

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