Actor/director/producer/writer Tyler Perry is in all measurable ways a success. The Atlanta-based Perry went from homeless to Hollywood with his gospel-influenced stage plays and then moved into movies and TV. But, like many successful people, he has critics. Industry veterans like Spike Lee and increasingly, some viewers, find his work stereotypical and his shows banal. This year, Perry took on a new challenge – appearing as fictional detective Alex Cross in the movie of the same title, out October 19th. (See trailer below.) This will be one of the few times in his career that Perry is not writer, director nor producer – instead he’s the hired talent. On more familiar ground, he also signed a deal with BFF Oprah to create the first scripted show for her network, OWN. While we give props to the man for going beyond his comfort level, we applaud some of the things Perry’s already done well. Here’s a list of the best of Perry’s work thus far.
DADDYS LITTLE GIRLS (2007)
It’s not a perfect movie, but the fact that it stars Idris Elba is a plus. The lonely, stuck-up career woman that Gabrielle Union plays is a trite Black movie stereotype and Tosha Smith’s character is so beyond rachet she’s unbelievable. So what do we love about this movie? Well, for one, we love the idea that it centers around a blue collar dad, Monty James, played by Elba, who wants to take care of his children. That his kids are the super cute McClain sisters only makes it more endearing. The lasting message – that there are fathers that want to be a significant presence in their children’s lives despite the breakdown of the relationship with their mother, is one that viewers connected to. That Perry can take an important message about fatherhood and make it part of an entertainment vehicle probably did more to advance paternal responsibility than a thousand pulpit speeches. And that, we can appreciate.
Perry was among the big name producers that got behind the film directed by Lee Daniels and adapted for the screen by Geoffrey S. Fletcher, both African-American. Perry’s buddy, Oprah Winfrey, was the other big-name producer. Based on “Push” the novel by Sapphire, “Precious” told a difficult story of an obese African-American girl being abused by both her parents. Despite its dark storyline, the movie was received well and earned Oscars for both Fletcher (for Best Adapted Screenplay) and Mo’Nique (Best Supporting Actress.) By supporting the work of talented African-American artists, Perry continues to develop talent that can blossom inside and outside his orbit.
FOR COLORED GIRLS (2010)
Bringing Ntozake Shange’s beloved 1975 stage play to the big screen was a daunting task, but Perry made it happen. Despite enormous criticism, Perry, with Shange’s blessing, brought the poetry of her original work to the screen, updating it some with male actors and a more contemporary setting. Actresses Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Anika Noni Rose, Kimberly Elise and Kerry Washington all had the chance to play roles dealing with the problems and issues of a diverse group of everyday Black women that rarely exist on the big screen. Despite the dubious casting of Janet Jackson, Perry’s take on the play held up. Critics failed to see that by making the film, Perry gave the original play much greater exposure and got people in to see the gist of Shange’s brilliant work that would never have done so otherwise.
THE FAMILY THAT PREYS (2008)
Perry’s 2008 movie “The Family That Preys” is one of the few he’s made that doesn’t have a solely African-American cast. In this film, the Cartwright family is one of Atlanta’s most moneyed, but the matriarch of the family, Charlotte Cartwright (Kathy Bates) is best friends with diner owner Alice Evans (Alfre Woodward). Little do they know that their families are secretly interconnected. Alice’s selfish daughter Andrea is having an affair with Charlotte’s married son, William, and this is the basis for much of the strife in the movie. Eventually, things come to a head and in unexpected ways. Taraji P. Henson, KaDee Strickland and Cole Hauser also star. Though there is melodrama to spare in this soapish film, there is also warm chemistry between Bates and Woodward, which would suggest that Perry has it in him to expand on the sometimes stereotypical relationships we often seen in his films. The addition of prominent white cast members adds more options to the storyline, which shows hat Perry can expand on his scripts in the future. “The Family That Preys” shows he has a little more versatility than we might have guessed.
TYLER PERRY STUDIOS (2008)
It’s not one of his films, but Tyler Perry Studios is one of Perry’s most significant accomplishments nonetheless. The 200,000 square foot studio is solely owned by Perry, making him one of the few African-Americans in history to ever own a film studio. Opened in 2008, the studio means that Perry can shoot his own films and TV productions in-house thus saving millions of dollars in soundstage and studio fees for his films. He can also lease it out to the myriad productions taking place in and around Atlanta, thus ensuring profits for himself regardless of whether his movies and stage plays do well. He can also, and most importantly, continue developing African-American behind the scenes talent that includes writers, editors, casting directors, producers and more. The studio alone will cement his legacy not just as filmmaker but as a talent creator.