Tyler Perry and the Vision
When I was in high school, circa 2004 ish, I remember overhearing one of my friends talking about attending a Tyler Perry play. I asked her who the heck was Tyler Perry, as I had heard the name several times and many people were talking about going to see one of his stage plays recently.
She explained that Perry had been touring, presenting, and writing plays for the last several years and told me that she and her family rarely missed a play because he was that hilarious. She revealed how he sometimes dressed as an older woman and it was quite comical. I said “cool” and in the back of my head I put it on my mental check list.
I grew up in the “hood” so to speak, so bootlegging movies and selling them for profit was a common practice in my community. I was confused one day when a bootlegger asked me, while I as exiting a local grocer, did I want to buy a Tyler Perry play. Internally, I asked myself, “Who the hell bootlegs a play?”
You see, I had seen several plays by that age, but the plays I had seen were classical things like Sleepy Hollow and The Snow Queen, not a black production of anything modern. Quite honestly, I didn’t know there was such a thing.
The same friend who told me about the playwright, warned a little later that if I wanted to see a Tyler Perry play, I needed to hurry up because he was leaving the stage soon for Hollywood. She wasn’t wrong.
Tyler Perry becomes a Star
Back in the day my sister, mom, and I use to go on ‘dates’ about once or twice a month on Friday nights while my dad worked. One Friday, shortly after hearing about Tyler Perry, I was watching the cinematic production of Diary of a Mad Black Woman (Perry’s first movie) on opening weekend, per my sister’s request. I remember the theater was filled to the brim. Getting tickets was super hard, as every show was nearly sold out.
Thousands of black people were excited to see the “play man” turn Hollywood and the large theater was filled with occupants. The movie was funny touching, and I remember having a lot of fun as many audience members ooo’ed, aww’ed, and make jokes all throughout the movie.
Shortly after that, it was like a Tyler Perry movie was coming out every weekend. Then came the plethora of TV shows. In college, I enjoyed many Friday nights of watching Meet the Browns and House of Payne.
As Tyler became a household name, there were many critics. Many said he only offered buffoonery and he needed to be more serious because he was presenting blacks in a negative light. There were all matter of people coming out with think pieces against the screenwriter, actor, and producer, but nothing seemed to stop him.
Every other night BET was airing one of his movies, he had a new movie in theaters every other month, and soon he was paring up with Oprah for her new OWN Network.
People hated, but nothing stopped Mr. Perry’s success or his content from appearing in the media. He just seemed to grow more with each year.
Tyler’s Story and Impact
One Sunday last winter, I was hanging with my Grandpa and he so happened to have on the religious TV network TBN. To my surprise, Tyler Perry was on a talk show promoting his new book. This segment was really enjoyable.
Perry discussed how it took seven years for him to even marginally succeed with his plays. He grew up in a very hostile home, he was abused, his family struggled finically. He became a very angry yet determined young man who used writing as a method of escapism.
Tyler began producing stage plays and every play he presented seemed to fail. During one particular attempt, he borrowed three hundred dollars from his mom’s credit card to help with the production. The play failed yet again, and Tyler would not be able to pay his mom back immediately. He came to her heartbroken after the incident and she scold him. She angrily asked him why didn’t he just give up on creating plays and go and get a “real” job at the phone company.
Let me explain something for a moment in case you don’t understand the value of Perry mother’s statement. In the black community, the phone, electric, gas, cable, or any government sanctioned job is the ultimate come-up. Generally with careers in these fields, one can receive health-care benefits and a dependable income. Upon retirement, you receive a store-brought cake and a monthly pension. One is basically set to live a very dull version of the American dream.
Tyler admitted that his mother’s request was tempting, because he really wanted to have dental insurance to fix some of his cosmetic teeth issues, but he really felt compelled to write and produce plays. His mother’s statement caused young Perry to blanch and weep bitterly. His mother finally understood what this venture meant to him and she quickly apologized for the infraction.
Finally, Perry’s plays started to succeed after the seventh and nearly finally attempt and Perry grew in popularity, especially amongst the black community. He went on to have success in Hollywood, but he didn’t really understand the importance of his endeavors until he ran across a very touching letter.
A very depressed mother decided that she was going to commit suicide. She decided that she was going to take her kids to a hotel room, order pizza and give them one last day of fun before her planned demise. On the way to their hotel, the kids asked could they watch some Tyler Perry plays.
The kids had no idea their mom was considering killing herself, they just thought it would be a special treat. The mom found a local bootlegger, purchased some of Tyler’s plays on DVD and commenced to watch the plays in the hotel room with her little ones.
The mother reported that watching the plays made her laugh, deeply.
For the first time, in such a very so long time, the mother laughed. That laughter gave her the motivation she needed to not end her life and leave her children motherless. This story touched Tyler Perry deeply and he finally understood the weight of his work.
Tyler’s Greatest Success Yet
Just last week, Mr. Perry received his star on Broadway and over the weekend he threw a star-studded event to celebrate his success and the opening of his new studio.
Perry’s new sprawling studio located in Atlanta, Georgia, rests on 330 acres. It is reported to be larger than Warner Brothers, Disney, and Paramount Studios combined with over sixty acres to spare.
His star-studded studio opening celebration included nearly every black actor, actress, and entertainer relevant to popular culture in the last sixty years. In attendance was Cicely Tyson, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce and the list goes on and on.
His success has given every African American not only something to look up to, but a standard to strive toward.
His studio will not only employee thousands of workers, but Perry plans on using his gigantic estate to build a shelter and employment for displaced youth, homeless women, and sex-trafficking victims.
What’s cool about all of this to me is that in the early-2000s when I was introduced to Mr. Perry he was still just the “play guy” and in less than fifteen years he has risen to become the first African-American individual in history to own a filming studio- a studio larger than any white established studio that has had the advantage of decades for potential growth!
What’s more interesting to me is the alternative scenario. What if Mr. Perry had have taken his mother’s advice?
Tyler Perry without Vision
Let’s imagine Mr. Perry at fifty-years-old working at the phone company. By now he would probably be about twenty-two-years in. He would have made enough money by now to have a cozy three bedroom home. He’d be maybe fifteen years into his thirty year mortgage. He’d probably have a couple of kids who are off in college struggling with mounting student loan debt.
He would have lived a respectable life. He would have been the funny and smart co-worker who makes you laugh at the water cooler. He would have probably been a deacon at his local church. He might have volunteered to direct the community Christmas play just to narrowly fulfill his desire to be in theater.
Mr. Perry probably would have paid taxes, made ends meet, and had a little money left over to purchase Kenneth Cole Reaction, Polo Association, and Stanford dress shirts. On the weekend he’d unwind with a glass of Barefoot wine, attend concerts and plays, and go to church on Sunday. Every Monday however, he would be back on the phone line as a costumer service representative answering questions about billing or Wi-Fi with a little part of himself dying every day.
Though his life would be “good’ or at least normal on the outside, internally he’d probably ask himself “what if?” a million times a day. Tucked away in the basement, hidden from his family and friends, He might have stashed a box of old scripts and ideas that lived and died there- like a coffin that he alone mourned over.
I shudder to think. I literally shudder to think, but guess what? This story is not Mr. Perry’s story, but it is the story of many others.
How many people have been talked out of their dreams or just simply given up? How many people are at the phone company right now seeking stability when they should own a medical practice, a science lab, a publishing company, or maybe a studio even larger than Perry’s?
I am sure that Tyler Perry never imagined that his dream would take off like it has, but here he is because he never gave up on his vision.
His mother wasn’t completely wrong- she had the right ideas. She wanted to see her baby boy debt free and happy with a nice car, a safe place to live, and maybe a new set of teeth. As big as she could dream was the phone company with a $10 an hour pay rate, but Tyler knew that God’s plan for him was bigger.
In this (Click) article I wrote about a similar situation, where Beyonce’s mother asked her to reconsider her 2018 Coachella performance theme, simply out of love for her daughter. Tina Knowles nor Mrs. Willie Maxine Perry never had the intention to hurt their children, but sometimes the people who love you most will not “get” your vision.
The truth is there are a lot of people in your life who love you and have your best interests at heart, but they can never understand the vision God has placed into your heart until it is successfully birthed into fruition.
As a Creative especially, it is frustrating trying to make your loved ones understand that you aren’t slacking off in life by not taking the safe route of the “phone company”. When God places a vision in your heart, sometimes you must quit your job, stay up late, and/or struggle to get your dream off the ground.
Dreams hardly ever come in the neat packaging of the “phone company” but they are twice as rewarding. Because of Tyler Perry, many African Americans are being employed in film, his charitable gifts are blessing thousands, people are finding joy in his work, hope in his dream, and one mother is still alive for her children.
Best of all, Tyler’s mother’s dreams have been fulfilled, Tyler has beautiful teeth, and I am sure a hundred or more phone companies could easily rest inside of his massive studio estate!
Let this story encourage you to not be tempted to play small for the relief of your loved ones or the stability of ten dollars an hour every two weeks. Trust in your vision, It would not have been place in your heart if it wasn’t attainable and unique to you abilities.
Also, be encouraged to not give up when things look bleak. It took Mr. Perry seven years to find success and many more years of hard work to reach the level of success he has reached today. If he had given up after his first, third or even sixth failed stage production, he possibly would be seated at his desk right now saying, “You have reached AT&T, Tyler speaking. How can I assist you in resolving your Wi-fi issue today?”
Believe in bigger- you can achieve your wildest dreams!
Congratulations to Mr. Perry of his amazing success!
Comment below and share your dreams with the #SoulSquad.