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Failure, Madea, and the significance of Tyler Perry’s Governors Award

Tyler Perry talks with BET News at the 82nd Academy Awards on February 14, 2014. (This image is in the Public Domain)

Tyler Perry’s quilt is made up of great struggles and great triumphs. His quilt tells the story of a man who fought great adversity in order to not only empower himself, but to empower other Black and African-American creatives.

How Perry’s beginnings shaped his legacy

As a child, Perry was abused by his father and several other people in his life. In creating his own legacy, he legally changed his name from Emmitt Perry Jr. to Tyler Perry at 16 to distance himself from his father. Perry did not finish high school but got his GED later on. At 20, he made the monumental decision to move from New Orleans, La., U.S.A. to Atlanta, Ga., U.S.A.

In his entertainment career’s beginning, Perry funded his first play with $12,000. He also directed, produced and starred in his play “I Know I’ve Been Changed” in 1992. Only 30 people came to see the show at its first showings in Atlanta that year, and it failed to bring in crowds in other cities. Perry continued to struggle financially with the play until 1998 after rewriting and reworking it for six years. During a portion of time before his success, Perry was living out of his car.

After what would’ve been his last attempt to showcase “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” the final edition of the play went on to become a success during its showings at the House of Blues in Atlanta, Ga., performing to sold-out crowds in other theaters soon after.

Perry’s great success came mostly with the creation of Madea, who was based largely on his mother and some other maternal role models. Madea has remained Perry’s most well-known character, and his own Tyler Perry Studios resides in her neighborhood.

Tyler Perry (via Instagram)
Tyler Perry (via Instagram)

‘Madea’s’ success conquers the world of gender norms

Tyler Perry became one of the richest men alive by doing something that most celebrities don’t do: he exploited the market of African-Americans which is a market very under-appreciated in the media. By doing this, he created a path and example for himself and other up-and-coming African-American entertainers as well. 

Perry further surpasses expectations by being the one that primarily directs, writes and produces many of his own projects, from films to stage plays to television movies as well. Most of all of his media is self-financed, giving him copyrights to all of his material.

The name “Madea” was generated from the root words Mother and Dearest. It is known to be a term for grandmother in the south where Perry is from. He modeled this character after his late mother and his favorite aunt:

My aunt and my mother were the funniest women I knew so I modeled after them.

Tyler Perry

Perry explains that before his mother died, “she told me whatever you do, don’t stop playing this character.” She too had a love for Madea.

Perry admits that he had a fear of playing the role of a woman, that it was breaking expectations of a 6-foot black man but that he wanted the memory of his mother and the impact that Madea had on people to go on. Perry says, “I watched Eddie Murphy and how he did his female characters” and then decided for himself that he would try it once. However, that one time turned out to become a $2 billion franchise.

Beyond Perry’s governors award

House of Payne season 5” by Laurendaily06 is licensed under CC BY 4.0

With a career spanning over two decades, 17 films, 20 stage plays, seven television shows and a New York Times bestselling book, Perry has created a legacy built around celebrating hope and humor. 

Perry has also won many awards for his work on the big and small screen. These include almost 20 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) awards, six Black Entertainment Television (BET) awards and three Black Movie awards. He has also received two African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) awards, one Music Television (MTV) award, one Kid’s Choice award and one People’s Choice award.

Along with winning awards, Perry’s movies, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “Why Did I Get Married?” and “Madea Goes to Jail,” debuted at No. 1 in the U.S.A. Additionally, according to TylerPerry.com, his television show “House of Payne” was the highest-rated cable show of all time during its first time on air. 

Last year, Perry received his own Hollywood Walk of Fame Star and he won the BET Ultimate Icon Award with a speech that got a standing ovation. 

A highlight of Perry’s career came in 2015 when he purchased 330 acres of land in Atlanta, Ga. and built Tyler Perry Studios. The plot of land began as Fort McPherson Army base and has since been turned into one of the largest production facilities in the country. For comparison, Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, Calif., U.S.A. are 110 acres with 32 extra acres nearby.

As Perry said in his Governors Award acceptance speech during the 2020 Emmy Awards:

In my mother’s quilt, she couldn’t imagine me owning land that was once a Confederate Army Base where Confederate soldiers plotted and planned on how to keep Blacks enslaved. And now on that very land Black people, White people, gays, straight, lesbian, transgender, ex-cons, Latins, Asians, all of us come together . . . to add patches to a quilt that is as diverse as it can be; diversity at its best.

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