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Well Done – Tyler Perry

Last Wednesday evening, ABC broadcasted the annual Country Music Awards show.  As the title says, it’s an awards show, and by definition many in attendance were recognized for their achievements.  Awards were handed out to those who stood out amongst their peers.

One person though, stood head and shoulders above the others for a simple observation and a call to come together.  That man is NOT a singer sharing his thoughts through his music.  But he is a talented and Godly man who shared his words boldly to an audience who not only received his message, but gave him a standing ovation for his obvious wisdom and courage to call out what so badly needed to be called out.  His name is Tyler Perry.   You may not know Tyler Perry, or even if you are familiar with his name, you my not know much about him.  Here is a brief and edited version of the description of his life from Wikipedia:

“Tyler Perry is an American actor, comedian, filmmaker, writer and songwriter, specializing in the gospel genre. Perry wrote and produced many stage plays during the 1990s and early 2000s. He has subsequently produced a number of very successful films and TV shows as well.  In 2011 he was the highest paid man in entertainment.

Perry was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 13, 1969 as Emmitt Perry Jr., the son of Willie Maxine Perry and Emmitt Perry, Sr. Tyler Perry once said his father’s “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. At age 16, he had his first name legally changed from Emmitt to Tyler in an effort to distance himself from his father.

Many years later, after seeing the film Precious, he was moved to relate for the first time accounts of being molested by a friend’s mother at age 10; he was also molested by three men prior to this, and later learned his own father had molested his friend.  A DNA test Perry took in the 2010s stated that Emmitt Sr. was not Perry’s biological father.

While Perry did not complete high school, he earned a GED.  In his early 20s, watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, he heard someone describe the sometimes therapeutic effect the act of writing can have, enabling the author to work out his or her own problems. This comment inspired him. He soon started writing a series of letters to himself.  Those letters became the basis for the musical I Know I’ve Been Changed.

Around 1990, Perry moved to Atlanta, where two years later I Know I’ve Been Changed was first performed at a community theater, financed by the 22-year-old Perry’s $12,000 life savings The play 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 but Perry persisted, and over the next six years he rewrote the musical repeatedly, though lackluster reviews continued. In 1998, at age 28, he succeeded in retooling the play and restating it in Atlanta.  Perry continued to create new stage productions, touring with them on the so-called “chitlin’ circuit” (now also known as the “urban theater circuit”) and developing a large, devoted following among African-American audiences. In 2005, Forbes reported 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 “the 300 live shows he produces each year are attended by an average of 35,000 people a week”.

Perry raised a $5.5 million budget in part from the ticket sales of his stage productions to fund his first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which featured his main character, Madea, an older black woman, played by Perry himself.  It went on to gross US$50.6 million domestically.  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. ”

He has been criticized by some in the African-American community for his depiction of Madea, but has been heralded by many others including Oprah Winfrey.  Oprah once said of Madea, “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.”   In response to critics, in particular Spike Lee,  Perry once said on 60 Minutes “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.”

Last Wednesday evening on the widely watched CMA Awards show on ABC he again talked about something of great depth and importance but this time not in character as Madea, but as himself.  He called for our nation to show a kinder, gentler response to our differences.  He sited a time many years ago when a country singer walked out on that stage and noted to the audience that he looked a bit different than his peers and somewhat unusual with his “permanent tan”.  That singer was a then, young black man named, Charley Pride.

Perry noted how Pride used humor to disarm the crowd who was not used to seeing a black man in that musical genre.  Then Tyler Perry went a step further.  He pointed out that Charlie Pride recognized that what made him and the others in the audience that night alike was their common love of country music.  That is what he focused on…. not the obvious difference in their skin color.  And so Tyler Perry challenged America.  “Now it has never been more important, that we all come together, find some common ground, spend some time listening to each other, and realize that we are more alike than we are not alike.”

We give that idea a big AMEN!  You can see a clip of Tyler Perry’s remarks here

Tyler Perry had a very hard and troubled childhood. He has truly had many obstacles and criticisms to overcome.  But he has said his faith and relationship with God kept him from becoming an angry and bitter man.  It is that faith that compelled him to call us all to care more deeply for one another and look for those things that unite us rather than the things that divide and separate us.  And for that we say….Well Done Tyler Perry…WELL DONE!!!

 

 

 

 

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