This past weekend, Tyler Perry officially opened his 330-acre studio in Atlanta, Georgia. Tyler follows in the footsteps of trailblazer Oscar Micheaux, who opened the first black-owned movie company in 1919.
Black Hollywood showed up and showed out for the grand opening with stars like Beyonce, Oprah, Colin Kapernick, and Samuel L. Jackson in attendance. Ava DuVernay even took to Twitter to boast that the studio, which sits on a former Confederate Army base, can fit the lots of “Disney, Warner Bros, Paramount, Fox, and Sony” on the property and still have room to spare.
And Tyler has a lot of plans for that extra space.
Speaking to Gayle King on CBS This Morning, Tyler said he hopes to help some of the most vulnerable communities in the Atlanta area.
“I’ll tell you what I’m most excited about next is that pulling this next phase off- is building a compound for trafficked women, girls, homeless women, LGBTQ youth who are put out or displaced. And having a compound that is a beautiful place right here somewhere on this 330 acres.”
He also explained to Gayle that he wanted to help those who seek refuge at his compound find jobs and reintegrate into society.
“They’re trained in the business and they become self-sufficient, they live in nice apartments, there’s daycare, there’s all these wonderful things that allow them to re-enter society and then pay it forward again.”
Both communities are especially vulnerable right now. In 2017, Chapin Hall at The University of Chicago reported that “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth had a 120% increased risk of experiencing homelessness compared to youth who identified as heterosexual and cisgender.”
Human trafficking is also a growing problem, particularly in Atlanta. This past February, during Superbowl 53, the FBI arrested 169 people in just 11 days and rescued nine victims. The youngest victim rescued was just 14 years old.
Georgia-based nonprofit Street Grace found that the sex trafficking industry in Atlanta saw a 22% increase between 2003 and 2007. And according to the Schapiro Group, every month, 7,200 men go to Georgia to exploit sex with young girls with about 9% of the men marking their location near the Atlanta airport.
It’s amazing that Tyler wants to find a solution to help women and LGBTQ youth. But it’s also pretty surprising, particularly because of the barrage of criticism Perry has faced over the years for his caricature-like portrayal of black people, especially black women. One Twitter user pointed out that Tyler’s success has come at the cost of other people.
“It’s hard to celebrate Tyler Perry’s historic success when he got there by parodying big-bodied Black women, using thinly veiled misogynoir, expressing overt transphobia and homophobia, and privileging cishet Black maleness over Black women, femmes, and queers.”
Journalist Jamilah Lemieux echoed the same sentiments in an open letter back in 2009.
“I appreciate your commitment to giving black folks jobs in front of and behind the camera… However, the images of black people we see in your movies and two of your TV shows, Meet The Browns and House of Payne, are not always fair. Both of your shows are marked by old stereotypes of buffoonish, emasculated black men and crass, sassy black women.”
Despite the criticisms, Tyler Perry has stated in the past that he writes and creates his stories for a particular audience and that much of his influences come from growing up in rural Louisiana. He told Beliefnet in 2009,
“It comes from a certain culture or certain kind of Black person. But, what is clear and obvious to me is that there’s a disconnect between those type of people and African-American Black folks, because I can take you to my neighborhood right now and you will see 20 of those women. They’re not stereotypes. They exist. They’re real. And people think that they don’t exist.”
For some people, Tyler Perry’s films and shows are seen as a form of minstrelsy. But for many of us in the black community, we can watch his films and see some of our family members and friends in the characters that he creates. It shows us that there isn’t just one way to be black. He creates stories for people that might not see themselves depicted on screen all the time.
Whether or not his films speak to you, the work that Tyler Perry has done for the black community and for black people in the movie industry who were struggling to get a seat at the table needs to be acknowledged. This new compound shows just how much he cares for the community and how much he wants to help those that are disenfranchised.
Hopefully, Perry can lead by example when it comes to being open and accepting to everyone regardless of who they love.
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Alysia Stevenson is a twenty-seven New York City transplant currently living in Florida with her boyfriend and three furbabies. When she’s not writing, you can find her watching beauty tutorials on Youtube or Parks and Rec for the millionth time.