Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry
(born Emmitt Perry, Jr. September 13, 1969) is an American actordirectorplaywrightscreenwriterproducer, and author.[1]Already a successful artist in Southern theatre, Perry began to make national celebrity status in 2005 with the release of his first movie,Diary of a Mad Black Woman. In 2009, Perry was ranked by Forbes magazine as the sixth highest-paid man in Hollywood.[2] As of July 2009, Perry’s films had grossed nearly $400 million worldwide.

Early life

Perry was born in New Orleans, Louisiana as Emmitt Perry, Jr., named after his father, a carpenter. His family consisted of three siblings, his mother, Willie Maxine Perry, and his father. His childhood was far from ideal. Perry once said of Emmitt Sr., “his only answer to everything was to beat it out of you.” As a child, Perry once went so far as to attempt suicide in an effort to escape his father’s beatings. In contrast to his father, his mother took him to church each week where he sensed a certain refuge and contentment.[4] At age 16, he had his first name legally changed from Emmitt to Tyler in an effort to distance himself from his father.[5] After seeing the film Precious, he was moved to relate for the first time [6] accounts of being molested by a friend’s mother and by another friend’s father at age 10, and finding out that his own father was molesting a friend.[7]

While Perry never completed high school, he did earn his GED. In his early 20s, watching an Oprah Winfrey talk show, he heard someone describe the sometimes therapeutic effect that the act of writing can have, enabling the author to work out his or her own problems. This comment inspired him to apply himself to a career in writing. He soon started writing a series of letters to himself, which became the basis for the musical, I Know I’ve Been Changed.


Around 1990, he moved to Atlanta, where two years later I Know I’ve Been Changed was first performed at a community theater, financed by the $12,000 life savings of the 22-year-old Perry.[8] It included Christian themes of forgiveness, dignity and self-worth, while addressing issues such as child abuse and dysfunctional families. The musical initially received a “less than stellar” reception and was a financial failure.[9] Perry persisted, and over the next six years he rewrote the musical repeatedly, though lackluster reviews continued. In 1998, at age 28, a retooling of the play in Atlanta (first at the House of Blues, then at the Fox Theatre), became a great success. Perry continued to create new stage productions, touring with them on the so-called “chitlin’ circuit” (now also known as the “urban theater circuit”)[5][10] and developing a large, devoted following among African-American audiences. In 2005 Forbesreported that he had sold “more than $100 million in tickets, $30 million in videos of his shows and an estimated $20 million in merchandise” and that “the 300 live shows he produces each year are attended by an average of 35,000 people a week.”[8]

Perry’s stage plays include:


Perry received a $5.5 million budget to fund his first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which went on to gross $50.6 million domestically, while scoring a 16 percent approval rating at the film review web site, Rotten Tomatoes.[11] On its opening weekend, February 24–26, 2006, Perry’s film version of Madea’s Family Reunion opened at number one at the box office with $30.3 million. The film eventually grossed $65 million. Perry and his co-stars promoted the film on The Oprah Winfrey Show. As with Diary, almost all of the “Madea“s’ earnings have been generated in the United States.[12]

Perry’s next Lionsgate project, Daddy’s Little Girls, starred Gabrielle Union and Idris Elba and was released in the U.S. on February 14, 2007. It grossed over $31 million.[13] Perry wrote, directed, produced and starred in his next movie, Why Did I Get Married?, released on October 12, 2007. It opened at number one, grossing $21.4 million that weekend. It is loosely based on his play of the same name. Filming began March 5, 2007, in Whistler, British ColumbiaVancouver, then moved to Atlanta, where Perry had opened his own studio. Janet JacksonSharon LealJill Scott and Tasha Smith appeared in the film. Perry’s 2008 film, Meet the Browns, released on March 21, opened at number two with a $20,082,809 weekend gross.[14] The Family That Preys opened on September 12, 2008, and grossed over $37.1 million.

Madea Goes to Jail opened at number one on February 20, 2009, grossing $41 million and becoming his largest opening to date. This was Perry’s seventh film with Lionsgate Entertainment. At the request of director J. J. Abrams,[15] Perry had a cameo appearance in the movie Star Trek, which opened on May 8, 2009. This was his first movie appearance outside of his own projects.

Perry next wrote, directed, and starred in I Can Do Bad All By Myself, a film structured around his Madea character. This was Perry’s eighth film and also made number one at the box office.[16] In 2009 Perry teamed with Oprah Winfrey to present Precious, a movie based on the novel Push by Sapphire.[17]

Why Did I Get Married Too?, the sequel to Why Did I Get Married?, opened in theaters on April 2, 2010. It featured an award winning cast, featuring Janet JacksonCicely TysonLouis Gossett Jr.Jill Scott and Malik Yoba, just to name a few. As of April 18, the movie has grossed over $54 million domestically, with $29 million made the opening weekend. Chances are there may be yet another sequel.

Perry is directing a film adaptation of Ntozake Shange‘s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, scheduled for release in 2011.[18]

Perry’s movies are co-produced and distributed by Lionsgate Entertainment; he retains full copyright ownership under the corporate name Very Perry Films, and places his name in front of all titles.[19] Perry’s movies have seen very limited release outside North America, but in May 2010 Lionsgate announced plans to begin releasing his films in the United Kingdom.


Perry produces a television show entitled Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, which follows an African-American household of three generations. The show demonstrates the family members’ struggles with faith and love, as well as living with different generations. The show ran in the spring of 2006 as a 10-show pilot. After the successful pilot run, Perry signed a $200 million, 100-episode deal with TBS. On June 6, 2007, the first two episodes of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne ran on TBS. After receiving high ratings, House of Payne entered broadcast syndication. Reruns were played through December 2007 before the second season began. The third season began on March 5, 2008 and the fourth season on June 4, 2008. House of Payne airs on TBS.

The Writers Guild of America, West has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that Perry’s production company, House of Payne, unlawfully fired four writers in October 2008 in retaliation for their trying to get a union contract.[21]

Perry wrote, directed and produced the sitcom Meet The Browns, which premiered on TBS on January 7, 2009.

Perry has said he may produce another series entitled Floyd’s Family and another called Madea’s Big Happy Family based on the play of the same name.

In early 2009, Perry threatened legal action against Mo’ Money Taxes, a tax preparation company based in Memphis, for running a TV spot that he felt offensively parodied his work, in particular Madea Goes to Jail. The ad features a large Caucasian male (John Cowan) in drag, named “Ma’Madea.” The offending ad was dropped from circulation.


Tyler Perry’s first novel, Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life, appeared on April 11, 2006. The book sold more than 25,000 copies.[23] The hardcover reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list and stayed on the list for 12 weeks. It was voted Book of the Year and Best Humor Book at the 2006 Quill Awards.

Stylistic trademarks

Perry always uses possessory credit in his works’ titles (e.g., Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?). Several recurring narrative themes surface in Perry’s work and his films and plays feature a predominantly African-American cast.

The recurring character of Mabel “Madea” Simmons appears in much of Perry’s work. Perry first introduced Madea in his 1999 play I Can Do Bad All By Myself and the character has recurred in many of his subsequent works.[24] Perry portrays Madea by cross-dressing[25] in his plays and films. Perry has said he based Madea on an aunt who lives in Georgia, as well as on his mother.[24] Madea dispenses wisdom in a “no-nonsense manner”, and she is usually involved in physical comedy and/or a sight gag. The nickname “Madea” comes from aSouthern African-American contraction of the words “mother dear”, which is commonly used as a term of affection. It is also used as a reference to a great-grandmother.

Perry often refers to Steven Spielberg‘s adaptation of Alice Walker‘s The Color Purple, which he notes as one of his favorite movies. Perry’s plays refer to 1970s R&B and soul music, and the differences between that and the current state of rap/hip-hop music and other music popular among the black community.

Other references include singers Patti LaBelleWhitney Houston50 Cent (who was referred to as Kefro Dollar’s half-brother), R. KellyMichael JacksonIke & Tina Turner, the movieForrest Gump, the television sitcom Good Times, rapper Missy Elliott, and the singer Tweet.


Some critics, including notable African-Americans, have claimed that Perry’s work perpetuates negative racial stereotypes.

Despite praising Perry in 2006, in 2009 director Spike Lee criticized his work when interviewed by Ed Gordon on Our World with Black Enterprise, saying, “Each artist should be allowed to pursue their artistic endeavors but I still think there is a lot of stuff out today that is ‘coonery’ and buffoonery. I know it’s making a lot of money and breaking records, but we can do better. … I see these two ads for these two shows [Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns and House of Payne] and I am scratching my head. … We got a Black president and we going back toMantan Moreland and Sleep ‘n’ Eat?”[26] When Gordon cited Perry’s success among black audiences and asked Spike if Perry wasn’t just giving black America what they wanted, he responded, “We’ve had this discussion back and forth. When John Singleton [created his films], people came out to see Boyz n the Hood, but when he did Rosewood, nobody showed up. So a lot of this is on us. You vote with your pocketbook, your wallet. You vote with your time sitting in front of the idiot box, and the man has a huge audience, Tyler’s very smart. …We shouldn’t think that Tyler Perry is going to make the same film that I am going to make, or that John Singleton or my cousin Malcolm Lee [would make]. As African Americans, we’re not one monolithic group so there is room for all of that, but at the same time, for me, the imaging is troubling and it harkens back to Amos ‘n’ Andy.”[26]

In September 2009, Jamilah Lemieux made similar remarks on National Public Radio. While thanking Perry for employing blacks in front of and behind the camera and for making work with humor and “positive messages about self-worth, love and respect,” she criticized him for making television shows “marked by old stereotypes of buffoonish, emasculated black men and crass, sassy black women.” She took him to task for his character of Madea saying that through this, “the country has laughed at one of the most important members of the black community: Mother Dear, the beloved matriarch. …Our mothers and grandmothers deserve much more than that.” She stated that she appreciated that he was dismissive of critics comments concerning his work, “but many black folks have expressed some of the very same attitudes about your work that white critics have.” She stated that blacks “have been fed the same images of ourselves over and over and over because they sell.” She felt that his success had been “mired with the worst black pathologies and stereotypes” and called on him to “stop dismissing the critics as haters and realize that black people need new stories and new storytellers.”[27]

Lemieux’s criticism of Perry was cited and expanded upon by the author Tom Burrell in his 2010 book Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority. Burrell cited Perry’s 2008 film Meet the Browns as an example of when “we black people pull the trigger for our own image assassination.”[28] Burrell also stated, “…it’s not entirely fair to expect Perry to chart a new course alone. His movies and TV shows would not be so successful if blacks didn’t have a raging appetite for messages and images that project us as dysfunctional or incompetent. Nothing that occurred during Amos ‘n’ Andy’s radio and television reign could match the words and actions of black comedies like Madea and The Browns. Our attraction to self-demeaning images came way before, and goes far beyond, Tyler Perry.”[28] Burrell called for new images of blacks in entertainment and a new vision of black self-image.

Perry (and Madea) were satirized in a June 2010 episode of the Adult Swim animated series The Boondocks; the Los Angeles Times called this episode “one of the sharpest public criticisms of Perry”.

Perry’s response

In October 2009, during a 60 Minutes interview, Perry was read a quote of Spike Lee’s comments about his work and responded, “I would love to read that [criticism] to my fan base. …That pisses me off. It is so insulting. It’s attitudes like that, that make Hollywood think that these people do not exist, and that is why there is no material speaking to them, speaking to us.” Perry also stated that “all these characters are bait – disarming, charming, make-you-laugh bait. I can slap Madea on something and talk about God, love, faith, forgiveness, family, any of those.”[30]

Perry’s work has also been defended by Oprah Winfrey, who joined Perry in promoting Lee Daniels’ film Precious with him. She told an interviewer, “I think [Perry] grew up being raised by strong, black women. And so much of what he does is really in celebration of that. I think that’s what Madea really is: a compilation of all those strong black women that I know and maybe you do too? And so the reason it works is because people see themselves.

Personal life

Perry is a devout Christian.[32] He has become good friends with Oprah WinfreyWill Smith and Janet Jackson.[33]

On July 20, 2009, Perry sponsored 65 children from a Philadelphia day camp to go to Walt Disney World, after reading that a suburban swim club (Valley Swim Club, Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania) had shunned them.[34] Perry wrote on his website, “I want them to know that for every act of evil that a few people will throw at you, there are millions more who will do something kind for them.”[35]

On December 8, 2009, Tyler’s mother, Willie Maxine Perry, died at the age of 64, following an illness.[36] As of 2010, Perry remains unmarried.[37] He lives and works in Southwest Atlanta where he operates the Tyler Perry movies and TV studios.[38] In August 2010 it was reported that Perry had purchased Dean Gardens, a 58-acre estate in the Atlanta suburb ofJohns Creek. Perry was reportedly planning to tear down the existing 32,000 square foot mansion and build a new, environmentally friendly home on the property.


Film work

Year Film Credited as
Director Writer Producer Actor Role
2005 Diary of a Mad Black Woman No Yes Yes Yes Madea, Joe Simmons, and Brian Simmons
2006 Madea’s Family Reunion Yes Yes Yes Yes Madea, Brian, Joe
2007 Daddy’s Little Girls Yes Yes Yes No
Why Did I Get Married? Yes Yes Yes Yes Terry Brock
2008 Meet the Browns Yes Yes Yes Yes Madea, Joe (cameo)
The Family That Preys Yes Yes Yes Yes Ben
2009 Madea Goes to Jail Yes Yes Yes Yes Madea, Joe, Brian
Star Trek No No No Yes Admiral Barnett (Cameo)
I Can Do Bad All by Myself Yes Yes Yes Yes Madea, Joe
Why Did I Get Married Too? Yes Yes Yes Yes Terry

Television work

Year Show Credited as
Director Writer Producer Actor Role
2006 Tyler Perry’s House of Payne Yes Yes Yes Yes Madea
2009 Meet the Browns Yes Yes Yes No
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf Yes Yes Yes No

Awards and nominations

  • BET Comedy Awards
    • 2005, Outstanding Actor in a Theatrical Film: (Diary of a Mad Black Woman)– Winner
    • 2005, Outstanding Writing for Theatrical Film: (Diary of a Mad Black Woman)– Winner
  • Black Movie Awards
    • 2006, Outstanding Achievement in Screenwriting: (Madea’s Family Reunion)– Nominated
    • 2006, Outstanding Motion Picture: (Madea’s Family Reunion)– Nominated
    • 2005, Outstanding Achievement in Screenwriting: (Diary of a Mad Black Woman)– Winner
    • 2005, Outstanding Motion Picture: (Diary of a Mad Black Woman)– Nominated
  • Black Reel Awards
    • 2008, Best Screenplay Original or Adapted: (Meet the Browns)– Nominated
    • 2008, Best Screenplay Original or Adapted: (The Family That Preys)– Nominated
    • 2007, Best Screenplay Original or Adapted: (Madea’s Family Reunion)– Nominated
    • 2005, Best Breakthrough Performance: (Diary of a Mad Black Woman)– Nominated
    • 2005, Best Screenplay Original or Adapted: (Diary of a Mad Black Woman)– Nominated
  • Image Awards
    • 2009, Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture or Television Movie: (The Family That Preys)– Nominated
    • 2008, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: (Why Did I Get Married?)– Nominated
    • 2007, Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture or Television Movie: (Madea’s Family Reunion)– Nominated
    • 2007, Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture or Television Movie: (Madea’s Family Reunion)– Nominated
  • MTV Movie Awards
    • 2006, Best Comedic Performance: (Madea’s Family Reunion)– Nominated
    • 2006, Breakthrough Male Performance: (Diary of a Mad Black Woman)– Nominated