The 200,000 square foot studio that serves as the headquarters of the Tyler Perry empire in Atlanta, GA is the manifestation of a collective dream. Cecily Tyson and Sidney Poitier are just a couple of the pioneering Black actors who have shared in Perry’s dream come true—they attended the grand opening and cut the ribbons to sound stages that carried their names. Yet, the film pioneer whose vision most foreshadows Perry’s is Oscar Micheaux. If Micheaux—the father of Black cinema—was a man ahead of his time, then Tyler Perry may perhaps be an embodiment of the mogul Micheaux would have been in a world of Black television networks and Black spending power estimated at just below $1 trillion. Much like Perry has done in the 21st century, Micheaux called on lived experience to create much of his work and built his own cinematic infrastructure after the one in Hollywood refused to grant him control over his films.
Any consideration of the Tyler Perry Studios would therefore be incomplete without tracing the red thread that ultimately leads back to the Micheaux Book and Film Company in Chicago, IL. Following the Micheaux model, Perry uses his geographic positioning as an opportunity to carve out a new creative space. The tactic of strategic displacement has granted both visionaries the freedom to tell stories of Black life and spirituality that have been marginalized, and to funnel profits into projects that infuse popular culture with diverse ideas of blackness. For Micheaux, that creative power birthed approximately 40 independent productions; for Perry, it has given life to more than 12 motion pictures, three sitcoms, 1 book, numerous national stage plays and the only Black-owned studio in the U.S. I hope that in viewing this clip of the studio grounds, we might momentarily disentangle Perry’s entrepreneurial vision from his problematic characters, and engage in a serious reflection on what his business model means for Black star power.
The commentary above is based on research for a chapter on Tyler Perry co-authored by Robin R. Means Coleman and Timeka N. Williams.