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Who is Tyler Perry?

Three women stand outside the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta

Once a playwright living in his car as he wrote and rewrote scripts, but in 2011, Tyler Perry was listed as the highest-paid man in entertainment by Forbes magazine. How did this Georgia icon get it so right?

Early Life

He started life in New Orleans and his early years were shaped by poverty and an abusive man he later discovered was not his father. Perry always had a close relationship with his mother who took him to church where he found refuge from the toxic atmosphere at home. In fact, Perry has said it was his mother who laid the foundations for his entrepreneurial spirit and helped him defy the odds his background laid out for him.

The media mogul didn’t finish high school but was inspired one day in his early 20s when watching an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show to start writing as a means of coming to terms with his childhood trauma. After moving to Atlanta in the early 90s, Perry invested his life savings, $12,000, into the production of his first musical I Know I’ve Been Changed.

Career & Success

I Know I’ve Been Changed was not an overnight success. Having invested all his resources, Perry was forced to live in his car when the show resulted in failure, in an attempt to scrape together enough to get by. He wrote and rewrote the script and in 1998, 6 years after the first staging of the play, it received critical acclaim. It was performed first in the House of Blues and then the Fox Theatre — both Atlanta landmarks in their own right.

Since then, Tyler Perry has continued to grow and expand into all areas of entertainment. From films, TV, plays, and musicals, his trump card has been to ensure ownership over all his material — a rare feat in the entertainment industry. His character Madea has become a cult figure and after the success of the television series, the Madea films were an obvious next step.

Despite the widespread popularity of Perry´s work and his characters, it hasn’t been plain sailing. He has received criticism, most famously from director Spike Lee, for perpetuating damaging stereotypes of Black people. However, many put this debate down to a serious underlying issue, the lack of Black producers, filmmakers, and directors getting jobs in the film and television industry. An issue that Perry is dedicated to battling against.

The Tyler Perry Studios

330 acres of what used to be the confederate army base, Fort McPherson, opened as the Tyler Perry Studios in 2019. It is the largest production studio in the United States and Perry is the first African American to outright own a major production studio. The purchase of the studios achieved two main feats (among others): one, Perry was able to further his mission of owning his production, something that has been key to his success. Two, buying land that once belonged to an institution dedicated to persecuting Black people and using the land to provide opportunities for the Black community was an important action for the Atlantan and global community to see. As Perry himself said, “So while you’re fighting for a seat at the table, I’ll be down in Atlanta building my own.”

Tyler Perry & Atlanta

The decision to base his studios in Atlanta was symbolic of his loyalty to the city where he made his name. Drawing the focus away from Hollywood was a trailblazing move and one that did not go unnoticed by the local community. When discussing Atlanta icons, Perry is high on the list. As Forbes put it, “In truth, it was a deal that perhaps only Perry could have made. He’s been operating out of Atlanta since he released Diary in 2005; in the ensuing 15 years, he has produced at least one feature film every year, as well as 13 more television series, nearly all of it filmed in and around the city….”

Here at Roundabout Atlanta, we recognize the important figure that Tyler Perry cuts. The Tyler Perry Studios are an important part of our Atlanta Black History & Civil Rights Tour. If you want to know more about Perry or see where films like Black Panther were filmed, book a spot or get in contact.

– your Roundabout Atlanta team

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