(Todd A. Smith)
Say what you want about Tyler Perry, but he is arguably the most consequential entertainer in African-American history.
Sure, some people do not like some of the characters in his plays and movies believing that they perpetuate negative stereotypes of the African-American community.
But what Perry has done for young African-American children, and adults, is more than just make them laugh or entertain them.
Perry has shown what happens when a person believes in God, themselves, their purpose and their dreams.
While Perry, who already has an ownership stake in the BET+ streaming platform, has expressed interest in buying BET, neither Viacom nor Perry has actually confirmed or denied news that the media mogul and Louisiana native has purchased the cable channel.
Fox 5 Atlanta reported, “Congratulations are pouring in for Tyler Perry after news reports that the media mogul successfully acquired BET and VH1, making him the first African American to own two major television networks…except, no one knows if it actually happened.
“Many celebrities, social media influencers and blogs have taken a since-deleted article making the bold claim on Monday and have run with it throughout the week.”
Regardless of if the deal goes through, Perry has already captured the imagination of African-American dreamers, like yours truly.
Like many of us, Perry did not come from wealth.
He did not have parents that had succeeded in his profession.
Therefore, he had to figure out things on his own.
Perry even had to overcome an abusive stepfather, which probably had an adverse impact on his self-esteem and self-worth.
He endured homelessness.
He endured his first live performances bombing at the theater.
Because of his successful plays based on his beloved character Madea, Perry eventually built an empire outside of the Hollywood system, which included legions of fans.
However, the powers-that-be in Hollywood still did not believe that his success on the chitlin circuit could translate to box office success.
A Hollywood executive even once told Perry that African-Americans who go to church did not go to the movies.
That type of ignorance has always stopped Hollywood from making even more money because studios often had only old White guys making decisions for a consumer base that consisted of a lot more than just old White guys.
Perry, an African-American man who attends church, showed that executive and others what his fanbase and that demographic did or did not do.
He showed them what an underserved market liked or disliked.
And although many in Hollywood did not understand his movement or his fanbase, therefore diminishing their value, Perry never gave up on himself or his supporters.
He never gave up on his dreams and his vision.
And most importantly, Perry never gave up on God.
I vividly remember a movie critic writing that Perry’s first movie “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” would probably offend nonbelievers because of the overt Christian messages in the movie.
While that might have occurred, Perry’s films also lit a fire in the belly of believers because many people could see a little of themselves in Perry.
They have doubted themselves.
They have doubted whether they have greatness in their future.
Some might have even given up on themselves, their dreams, the church and even God.
But many can relate to becoming successful out of the mud with faith and fearlessness.
They can see what happens when a dreamer like Perry ignores the naysayers and the haters.
They can see what happens when a dreamer does not give up, even though their first couple of at-bats could have produced a couple of swings and misses.
They can see what happens when a person holds fast to their vision, even if others cannot see the vision at first.
One of my line brothers told me to always speak boldly because there will be many people who feel the same way that I feel about the issues of the day.
Those people just might not have as big a platform or the ability to express it.
That is exactly what Perry did and that is why he cultivated such a dedicated following.
Hollywood is cyclical and boring.
And like everything else in America, probably bigoted.
Therefore, the African-American audience often got one type of film, like the consumer base is monolithic, or got nothing at all.
During the 1990s, Hollywood seemed obsessed with hood movies that depicted many African-Americans as gangster and thugs from low-income communities.
While that might be the reality for some African-Americans, it ignored the reality of millions of others who came from loving and God-fearing homes.
Perry came from a God-fearing home with a loving matriarch.
That reality came through in much of his work and it resonated with so many in the African-American community because that was their reality too.
I often tell people who are offended by Madea that the character reminds me of my grandmother and aunt.
The other colorful characters like Mr. Brown reminded me of other relatives as well.
Others must have seen their relatives in those characters too because it often led to the number one spot at the box office.
If Perry had listened to the naysayers and the critics, none of the success and billions of dollars that have followed would have been possible.
Furthermore, Perry never got scared when his vision began to grow, and God began to bless him with a bigger mission.
As a result, he has the sprawling Tyler Perry Studios campus.
He has ownership of a lucrative catalogue of movies, plays and television shows.
And maybe, just maybe, soon he will become the first African-American to own two major networks.
If that does not inspire the African-American community, I do not know what will.