The writer, producer, director was honored with BET’s Ultimate Icon Award. Taraji P. Henson, who has appeared in a string of Perry’s films including The Family That Preys (2008), I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009) and Acrimony (2018), presented him with the award.
“In a time when my counterparts were making way more money than I was, Tyler Perry was the first to pay me my exact worth,” Henson said.
In his powerful speech at the Microsoft Theaters in Los Angeles, Perry recalled growing up with a father who beat his mother. To make her laugh, five-year-old Tyler started imitating the women she played cards with every Friday. Then Perry spoke of starting a new school when he was 11 or 12. To get there, he had to walk past pimps, prostitutes and through a graveyard. One day, a man was standing at a major intersection asking passersby for help cross. No one would stop but Perry did and the two became good friends.
“That moment reminded me of my mother, bringing out of her pain with laughter, helping her cross.” In fact, Perry said that the first 10 movies he made were all about his mother, subconsciously, “wanting her to know she’s worthy, to let black women know you are worthy, you are special, you are powerful, you are amazing. All of that that was about helping her cross.”
He extended the metaphor to casting actors like Henson, Viola Davis and Idris Elba when “they couldn’t get jobs in this town.” “God blessed me to be in a position to be able to hire them. I was trying to help somebody cross.”
Perry then spoke about building his Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.
“When I built my studio, I built it in a neighborhood that is one of the poorest black neighborhoods in Atlanta so that young black kids could see that a black man did that, and they can do it too. I was trying to help somebody cross. The studio was once a Confederate Army base, which meant that there was Confederate soldiers on that base, plotting and planning on how to keep 3.9 million Negroes enslaved. Now that land is owned by one Negro.”
The comments received a long standing ovation.
“It’s all about trying to help somebody cross. While everybody else is fighting for a seat at the table, talking about ‘#OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoWhite,’ I said, ‘Y’all go ahead and do that. While you’re fighting for a seat at the table, I’ll be down in Atlanta building my own.’ Because what I know for sure is that if I could just build this table, God will prepare it for me in the presence of my enemies.”
Referring to the name of award he was receiving, Ultimate Icon Award, Perry said, “rather than being an icon, I want to be an inspiration. I want you to hear this, every dreamer in this room. There are people whose lives are tied to your dream. Own your stuff, own your business, own your way.”
You can watch Perry’s speech above.
Perry recently inked a multi-year content deal with BET and parent company Viacom. Last week he set his first series at BET, a White House drama titled The Oval, starring Ed Quinn, Kron Moore, Paige Hurd and Daniel Croix Henderson. It will begin principal photography this summer at Tyler Perry Studios.
Here is the video intro to Perry’s award.