In a speech celebrating the opening of his brand new 330 acre studio in Atlanta, Ga., Tyler Perry challenged his guests to dream bigger, like he had, while turning the former Army base into his personal production play land. But even the biggest dreamers — and the biggest names in entertainment — couldn’t be prepared for all the multi-hyphenate creator had in store at his grand opening gala on Saturday night.
“For people to drop what they’re doing in their very busy schedules to come and join me in this moment is beyond anything I could’ve imagined. It makes me happy. It makes me want to cry. It makes me grateful. It’s just I’m beyond,” Perry told Variety on the red carpet as the festivities kicked off. “I’m over the moon right now.”
The centerpiece of the evening featured Perry’s tribute to trailblazing black stars who inspired him — Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Will Smith, Halle Berry, Sidney Poitier, Whoopi Goldberg, Cicely Tyson and Harry Belafonte.
“It means I’m a part of history. This is an historic night in American cinema. It’s never been done before. So I’m honored and humbled that my brother asked me part of it,” Lee told Variety before being honored with soundstage No. 10.
The reveal of each soundstage and the star it honored was accompanied by a fireworks display and a round of massive applause from the A-list crowd. Perry also immortalized the late Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Della Reese, John Singleton and Diahann Carroll, who passed just before the ceremony on Friday.
Of celebrating Carroll’s legacy through the event, Perry said, “It’s sad news, is exactly what I thought at first, but then I looked at her 84 years on this planet. I looked at all that she was able to do. I looked at the bridges and the barriers that she broke just for me to be in this moment. So I’m celebrating it.”
Tiffany Haddish considers Perry a mentor after filming “Nobody’s Fool” on the lot. “Every time that I came in to work here at Tyler Perry studios, it was the biggest smile on my face. Cause I know the history of this place — It was a Confederate union military base,” Haddish recalled. “Trying to keep us enslaved. Now it’s owned by a black man.”
One attendee called the event “the black Met Gala” — but in actuality, the guest list gave the event the feel of the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys combined. Until the early hours of Sunday morning, Black Hollywood royalty mixed and mingled — with a guest list that included music superstars Ludacris, T.I., Usher, Diddy and Jay-Z (whose DeLeon tequila, Ciroc vodka and Ace of Spades champagne respectively were featured at the bars inside the venue); politicians like former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. John Lewis, and President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton; media figures CBS’s Gayle King, CNN’s Don Lemon, Tamron Hall and “The View’s“ Sunny Hostin; and award-winning creators Viola Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay.
Guests began the night with a cocktail hour in the John Singleton soundstage followed by opening remarks from Perry and a powerhouse performance by Jennifer Hudson, that left guests in tears (Patti LaBelle was one of the first on her feet to applaud the singer).
Outside of the soundstages, Perry surprised more of his collaborators, including Tika Sumpter and Keshia Knight Pulliam, revealing stars dedicated to them on his own Walk of Fame, similar to the one he received earlier in the week on Hollywood Blvd in Los Angeles.
When the three-course seated dinner was served inside the Oprah Winfrey soundstage, the buzz from guests shifted from gushing over meeting Smith or the Clintons outside to whispers that Beyoncé had arrived. Knowles-Carter’s Destiny’s Child sisters Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams (as well as her mother Tina Knowles Lawson) also attended. After dinner, Mary J. Blige took the stage for a 30 minute set with stars like Haddish, Chris Tucker and Taraji P. Henson dancing along to the private concert.