Tyler Perry officially opened his sprawling studio lot in Atlanta at a ceremony Saturday night. It has already been used by a number of productions, including Black Panther and the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/The Associated Press)
Director-producer Tyler Perry, best known for creating and portraying the tough-talking, elderly character Madea, officially opened a landmark $250-million US studio lot in Atlanta Saturday.
The sprawling 130 hectares (330 acres) formerly served as the Fort McPherson military base.
“The studio was once a Confederate Army Base,” Perry said on stage at the BET Awards in June after receiving a lifetime achievement award. “Which meant that there was confederate soldiers on that base, plotting and planning on how to keep 3.9 million Negros enslaved.
“Now, that land is owned by one Negro.”
The official opening took place Saturday, but the stages have already been used for major productions, including Black Panther, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Walking Dead.
AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead is among the major productions using Perry’s studio lot. (Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)
Perry’s making history
Perry, 50, who rose to prominence producing stage plays and directing films with widespread black audiences such as Good Deeds and The Family That Preys, is the first African-American to independently own one of the largest studio lots in the U.S.
It includes sets ranging from courtrooms to baseball fields, and also houses 12 soundstages.
“It will make it easier for certain types of diverse projects to see the light of day,” said Darnell Hunt, UCLA’s dean of social sciences, whose research interests include race, media and culture. “Having that facility, no longer do they have to rely on Hollywood and the traditionally exclusionary resources in Hollywood.”
Perry has built an empire partly on the success of more than 10 Madea films, which together have grossed well over $500 million US, according to Box Office Mojo.
Often operating on the periphery of Hollywood’s guarded gates before representation became a hot-button issue, Perry has been known for offering opportunities to people of colour both on and off screen, many of whom were struggling to find meaningful work despite their talent.
When Perry, left, was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Oct. 1, Idris Elba, right, was among the actors who spoke at the event. Perry gave Elba a leading role in his 2007 film Daddy’s Little Girls before Elba was well-known in the business. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/The Associated Press)
Perry gave a number of once-unknown black actors lead roles in his early films, including Taraji P. Henson (I Can Do Bad All By Myself), Kerry Washington (For Colored Girls) and Idris Elba (Daddy’s Little Girls). They have since gone on to become some of the industry’s most bankable stars.
Elba and Washington attended a ceremony last week honouring Tyler Perry with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“Thank you for encouraging me to dream,” Washington said at the Oct. 1 gathering in Los Angeles. “Thank you for helping to make my wishes come true.”
Many more attended the Atlanta opening, including Oprah Winfrey, whose network OWN airs Perry’s shows including The Paynes and The Haves and the Have Nots.
“He didn’t wait for other people to validate, or to say you should go this way or that way,” Winfrey told the Associated Press. “He said, ‘I’m going to create my own way’ and as we can see here, become a force for himself.”
Halle Berry, Samuel L. Jackson, filmmaker Spike Lee, Girls Trip star Tiffany Haddish and Selma filmmaker Ava DuVernay also came to show their support.
‘Can’t just up and leave’
The grand opening is taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing debate over Georgia’s restrictive abortion law, which bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected — which can be as early as six weeks.
The law was set to take effect in January of 2020 but has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.
The law’s initial signing in May prompted some in Hollywood to call for a boycott against filming in the state, which hosts a significant number of movie and TV projects due to its generous tax credits. Netflix, Disney, AMC and other major companies said at the time they would rethink their presence in Georgia if the law took effect.
Perry told the Associated Press last month that while he is against the law, he “can’t just up and leave,” given his investment. He added that the votes of the tens of thousands of entertainment industry workers in Georgia have the power to impact the state governor’s next election.
During his BET speech in June, Perry, who grew up in poverty and says he once lived in his car to make ends meet, explained how he hopes the studio’s presence will inspire younger generations.
“When I built my studio, I built it in a neighbourhood that is one of the poorest black neighbourhoods in Atlanta so the young black kids could see that a black man did that and they can do it too.”