Tyler Perry has put down deep roots in the state of Georgia, becoming the first African American to independently own his own studio — one whose acreage exceeds that of Warner Bros, Paramount and Walt Disney’s Hollywood lots combined. But Perry’s decision to put down those big, expensive roots hasn’t come without controversy — or at least questions.
Perry is notably expanding his presence in Atlanta during a period of turmoil, as Hollywood reacted to the news of Georgia’s abortion-restricting “Heartbeat Bill” with loud disdain and many in the industry proposed boycotting production in the state if the bill passed. But the writer/director/producer/actor stayed quiet on the issue until recently declaring that he would not “up and leave,” though he is personally against the proposed law. Sitting down with Variety at Tyler Perry Studios, Perry explained why he’s so steadfast in his decision to stay.
“First of all, when you put a quarter of a billion dollars in the ground in one place, you can’t just go ‘Okay I’m out,’” Perry said. “I still feel very strongly that the great thing about living in a democracy is every four years, you get an opportunity to change things.”
“So even if it hadn’t been shot down by the courts – and I know there’s a lot of legal battles going back and forth – I’m still committed to making it work here because in four years, it’ll be a different place,” he went on. “And you can’t base your life and your decisions based on temporary circumstances, you have to look to the long run, especially when you’re in this business and in this situation.”
Of the production companies who pledged to donate their fees and tax credits to the state or the agencies working to fight the bill, Perry added, “Of course it will help, but I also think that may be about out of some sort of guilt. I just wish everybody would take a deep breath, everybody calm down. I know we’re in an era where a hashtag can change everything. But just take a deep breath about this thing. Because there’s a lot of things at work here that are bigger than what we’re seeing.”
Though Perry is not from Atlanta — arriving in the 90s, he struggled to make it as a creator and even self-financed his plays while he was homeless and living out of his car — he has a deep love for the city.
“This may sound cliché, but [Tyler Perry Studios] being the home of Dr. King and having ‘the dream’ and being able to come here and live here. I’m telling you when I first came here, I saw Black people doing well, which blew my mind,” Perry recalled. “This is what I tell people — exposure is so important. If you see it, that means you can do it. And when I got here, I saw something, something vibrated in me that I thought, ‘This is where you need to be.’ So to see all of this happening and know that that moment was right, that was my God voice leading me here, that’s been really phenomenal.”
Perry purchased the 330 acres of land for $30 million in 2015, formerly the Fort McPherson Army base, Perry recently revealed that he poured another $250 million into the expansion.
“We just finished Phase 1, which is the 12 sound stages,” he said. “The second phase that we’re starting late next year is the six-lane highway, the backlot, the small little European town, a bigger lake and pond on it. So there’s so much more that I’m gonna do here.”
Perry marked the historic achievement in grand fashion, hosting a two-day, star-studded grand opening, dedicating sound stages to black celebrities who inspired him. “I feel this tremendous sense of obligation for all the people who helped me get here. Ones I don’t know, ones I may never know… all the way back to the ancestors who prayed for one day a generation to be able to be in this position. So I’m humbled by it.”
In addition to opening the studio, Perry is also promoting the debut of his latest shows, BET’s “The Oval” and “Sistas,” the first projects from a landmark multi-platform deal with Viacom that will last through 2024. Perry’s new partnership takes effect as his first-look exclusive with Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network is ending.
“It’s been incredible working with Oprah. I loved it, the only issue is OWN is one channel,” Perry explained. “When you have a facility like this, you have the capacity to do many, many different things. So the great thing about the Viacom deal and BET is starting off with those two shows, which is soon to be 5 or 6 shows and then launching BET Plus… and also being able to program VH1 and Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.”
Perry’s library of content is also being used to help launch BET’s streaming service, a venture he’s excited to get involved with because “streaming seems to be the way that everything’s going.”
“I have so much content that I want to create. I don’t have enough hours in the day to fully do all that I want to do,” he shared.
And though the streaming world is becoming a more crowded marketplace, Perry believes the key to his and BET Plus’ success lies with their content.
“The great thing that I’ve been given is an audience who’s extremely loyal, extremely faithful. And as long as I’m giving them content and what they wanna see, they’re in,” he shared. “What I know about my audience… Black women, when they are with you, they’re like country music fans. Nobody can take them away from you.”
So what’s next for the media mogul and his billion dollar empire? Perry is currently focused on expanding the studio, but he also has his sights on adapting his 1995 play about a jazz singer and holocaust survivor titled “A Jazz Man’s Blues,” as well as mulling over telling the story of Hurricane Katrina which struck his hometown of New Orleans.
“[I want to] be the voice, the place for the ones who are marginalized, disenfranchised, who are discarded, because what I want this to be is a place for the underdog,” he shared. “That’s what I’ve always felt like I was, because I didn’t play by anybody’s rules. I felt like I had to do it my way. And I can’t wait to see all the dreamers and the people who come through this gate, who get it and go out and do amazing things.”