Tyler Perry, most famously known for his roles as Madea, a foul-mouthed grandmother in films written and directed by him, has topped Forbes’ list of Hollywood’s elite, raking in an estimated $130 million over the past 12 months.
That’s more than Jerry Bruckheimer ($113 million), Steven Spielberg ($107 million), Elton John ($100 million), and Simon Cowell ($90 million). What’s remarkable about Perry’s feat is that the other four are all household names, while most of Perry’s movies, plays and TV shows appeal to a predominately black base.
As of June, Perry’s films had grossed over $500 million worldwide. Perry also has two shows on TBS (“House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns”), which are shot exclusively on his own production lot in Atlanta. Most of his movies were formally very successful plays. He puts several black actors, who Hollywood typically shuns, in his films and plays.
Acting often as writer, director, producer and actor, Perry has been influential in showing Hollywood that people want to see black movies. Hollywood studios have often been reluctant to have all-black casts, fearing white audiences would not attend. Perry dispelled this myth. His movies with predominately black casts generate high numbers at the box office.
The price of fame, however, can be quite costly. Despite his success, Perry often is criticized for the subject matter of his films. Many believe Perry plays up many historically negative black stereotypes in his films and plays. One of his most vocal critics, legendary filmmaker Spike Lee, characterized Perry’s films as “buffoonery and coonery.”
Due to his success, Perry’s works reach large audiences, and many blacks feel he is “airing our dirty laundry” to the masses. The popular animated series “The Boondocks” devoted an entire episode to Perry. The Los Angeles Times called it “one of the sharpest public criticisms of Perry.”
Touré, no stranger to controversy following his recent Michael Vick article for ESPN, once called Perry “the worst filmmaker in Hollywood,” further adding that he is “the KFC of black cinema.”
Perry has taken the criticism in stride. The negative comments, Perry says, are insults to the people who attend his plays and view his movies and watch his TV shows.
It is clear Perry caters to a certain audience, and his works are not for everyone. While some feel they are a bit coonish, others gain great delight from him and often learn life lessons. The average Spike Lee moviegoer is unlikely to get a Tyler Perry movie. And that’s fine. That’s why we have Tyler Perry and Spike Lee. Both have made great strides in filmmaking, and both have employ black actors when Hollywood wouldn’t give them a chance. Tyler Perry’s achievement is remarkable and his success tells movie studios that black works are profitable.
And I know this. I’ve never seen a Tyler Perry movie or play in my life — but my mother and grandmother adore him.