Over the course of the past decade Tyler Perry has dominated. His stage plays, motion pictures, DVDs, sitcom series, online talk show and book, based on commentaries from his popular character of Madea, have collectively grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. As the most commercially successful Black filmmaker in history, Perry is quickly making his way to billionaire status not by following the rules but by breaking them. Staying true to his core audience and pushing his message of family values, the media mogul has a lock on a lucrative slice of the African American market. Whether you love him or you hate him, you definitely can’t ignore him. If there’s still any doubt, here are a few reminders of Perry’s influence.
THE BLACK THEATER
Not since the days of Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes has Black theater been as popular and as relevant. When Perry hit the scene in 1998 with his first screenplay, “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” veteran playwright David Talbert had been one of only a handful of theater producers in what was known as the “chitlin circuit,” where theatrical musicals toured smaller venues throughout the south. How Perry flourished was in trademarking his stage plays by recording the performances and later selling them on tape. According to Forbes, by 2005 he’d garnered over $100 million in tickets, $30 million in videos and an additional $20 million in merchandising.
THE BLACK CHURCH
As a devout Christian, Perry constantly incorporates themes of God, the church and gospel music into his work. While the mainstream tended to steer clear of religious undertones in movies, the New Orleans native ran towards it, and the bank in the process. His popular Madea films reflect that the most, with 2009’s Madea Goes to Jail grossing over $90 million. As a result of his early success at captivating this niche audience, more studios are starting to take a chance on films that center around Black churches [e.g. 2003’s The Fighting Temptations ($30 million), and 2005’s The Gospel ($15.7 million)]. “Hollywood is finally waking up to the fact that people who go to church also go to the movies,” Perry told USA Today. “I’m not sure what took them so long to see that or how long they’ll keep it up.”
JILL SCOTT’S ACTING CAREER
At the start of her career, Scott was just a singer-turned-occasional-actress, making guest appearances on shows like UPN’s Girlfriends. That all changed once she connected with Perry for 2007’s Why Did I Get Married? Allowed to show her range on the big screen, the Philadelphia native landed the lead role in HBO’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. That was followed by her turn as a recovering alcoholic in Lifetime’s Sins of the Mother, a made-for TV movie that became the second most-watched and rated original movie in the network’s history. Last year, Scott reprised her role as Sheila in Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too?, which grossed over $60 million.
Before 2005, Lionsgate Films made their mark producing low budget films that yielded higher numbers at the box office. The studio’s successes in the African American market, however, was small yet notable. In 2001 they released Lee Daniels’ Monster’s Ball, which earned Halle Berry a Best Actress Oscar, but no other films followed that displayed people of color in leading roles. That was until Lionsgate signed on to distribute and produce Perry’s first film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005), which cost $5.5 million to make but wound up generating over $50 million at the box office. Ten films later, the combination of Perry and Lionsgate has resulted in an additional $424 million in domestic ticket sales. Perry’s next film, Madea’s Big Happy Family, is due out next month and is sure to make the partnership even more profitable than it already is.
In 2006, Lionsgate acquired Debmar-Mercury, a television syndication company. Already making money with Perry on the big screen, it wasn’t long before the pair expanded their partnership to include the small screen. The following year, Perry’s first sitcom House of Payne began airing on TBS. After a successful 10-show pilot run, he struck a $200 million deal for 100 episodes. By January 2009, Perry unveiled a second series, Meet The Browns, which was based on his popular play and movie of the same name and similarly led to a 80-episode deal for an equally hefty price. Perry has changed the landscape of a network known for its White bread rerun sitcoms (e.g. Family Guy and Seinfeld) to multi-cultural programming. Of the network’s six original programs, three star predominately African American cast—in addition to Perry’s shows, Ice Cube premiered his Are We There Yet? series last summer—and Mexican American comedian George Lopez scored his own talk show, Lopez Tonight, in 2009.
JANET JACKSON’S ACTING CAREER
Before she was a world-renowned singer/performer with over 100 million records sold, Jackson was a young actress, appearing on various television shows in the 70s and 80s. Although she played leading lady roles in 1993’s Poetic Justice and 2000’s Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Hollywood took a backseat to her music career until Perry brought her out of retirement for 2007’s Why Did I Get Married?, which grossed over $55 million. The pair teamed up twice more for Why Did I Get Married Too? ($60 million) and For Colored Girls ($37 million). Now, Ms. Jackson is following in Perry’s profitable footsteps, recently signing a development and production deal with Lionsgate for future films of her own.