Arts & Culture Film

Tyler Perry: America’s Newest Black Billionaire  

Yash Varma ’24

Contributor

According to the popular American business magazine, Forbes, there are only 614 billionaires in the United States of America. As of September of 2020, seven of them are African American, with the newest billionaire being none other than Tyler Perry. He is an American screenwriter, director, actor, and producer, most recognized for the creation and performance of the character “Madea” in his earlier plays and movies. 

Born as Emmitt Perry Jr. on September 13, 1969, Perry had a difficult life growing up. His father would constantly abuse and threaten him, and he attempted to take his own life several times. As a reprieve from his violent homelife, his Christian mother would take him to church every week, giving him a sense of serenity. This part of his life is reflected in many of his works, as he often puts common Christian themes, such as forgiveness, in his projects. At the age of sixteen, he legally changed his name to Tyler Perry to shirk association with his father. His academic life also had several bumps, as he graduated with a General Education Development (GED) diploma rather than finishing high school. His early adult life continued to be dull, with Perry working through several unfulfilling, futile jobs.  

Perry’s life reached a turning point when he watched Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. Someone on the show stated that writing and making stories about the grim aspects of life could bring success and artistic fulfillment. This inspired Perry, and he began using his past experiences to develop a play titled I Know I’ve Been Changed. In 1992, he saved up enough money to debut this play he was directing, producing, and starring in. Unfortunately, it failed. Only a handful of people came for the one weekend the production ran. After continuous attempts to sell the project, Perry found success in 1998 after retooling his creation. The play had sold enough tickets to finally get moved to a larger theatre.  

Following these events, Perry began working on his most notable character, Madea, an elderly and sharp-tongued grandma who was based on matriarchal figures in his life, such as his mother. He wrote and performed this character in many plays, which would later be adapted to motion pictures. His first film was Diary of a Mad Black Woman, where he starred as Madea and two other characters. Diary grossed 51 million USD (64 million CAD), which allowed him to make several other films and TV shows. Eventually, the numerous Madea films grossed 670 million USD (850 million CAD) at the box office. 

The thing that differentiates Perry from other filmmakers comes down to his complete ownership of his intellectual property (IP); in other words, Perry has legal rights over everything that he has created. This was why he was able to reach a net worth of 1 billion USD (1.3 billion CAD). Perry has made over twenty films, 1200 television episodes, several plays, and he owns Atlanta Studios, a 330-acre production studio company—twice the size of the Warner Brothers’ backlot— in Burbank, California. Altogether, this site is worth $280 million and continues to make a significant impact on the Georgian film industry.  

In honour of Black History month, I encourage you to check out some of Perry’s works. If you have an Amazon Prime Video account, you can watch many of the films where he portrays his famous character, Madea. As well, on February 25, 2022, A Madea Homecoming debuted on Netflix.  

Image Source: IMDB