Netflix is still the streaming center of the universe in 2020, even with competitors circling around trying to steal away its audience.
So Tyler Perry decided to jump into the fray, selling his latest film "A Fall From Grace" starring Crystal Fox, Phylicia Rashad and Bresha Webb to the streaming service instead of going the regular theatrical release route. It came out for all Netflix subscribers Friday, January 17.
“What was most appealing was the ability for my movie to be seen all around the world at once,” said Perry in an interview during a press junket Friday at Tyler Perry Studios.
Whenever a new Tyler Perry movie came out stateside, he’d get queries from fans in Africa and South America where his movies sometimes never get released. “There’s this myth with black people as leads don’t travel abroad,” Perry said.
Though he didn’t get into specifics, he said the Netflix deal worked for him financially. “Look,” he said. “I’m not trying to make ‘1917.’ ... I grew up in Greensburg, Indiana in the country where my uncle would come and just tell stories, which is from our history of African storytellers. Some of these stories are way out there and over the top but I just love telling stories so if I could equate it, I would be one of those people if I were back in that time.”
The film, written and directed by Perry and shot in a Perry-efficient five days, is about a woman named Grace (Fox) who appeared to murder her husband with a bat. Her public defender Jasmine (Webb) realizes not all is what it seems. Rashad of "Cosby Show" fame plays Grace's supportive best friend Sarah. Mehcad Brooks plays Grace's not-so-great hubby Shannon.
Perry said he hand-picked each woman lead for a reason. Webb is better known for comedy, he said, but she had a small dramatic role in his film “Acrimony” that “blew me away... I gotta find something for her because she’s amazing.”
And he has nothing but admiration for Rashad, who has also worked other Perry films in the past. “Whenever she says yes, I say, ‘Yes!’” he said. “She takes it up another notch just by her very presence.”
As for Fox, she had been an ensemble star of Perry’s most successful OWN show “The Haves and the Have Nots” the past seven years. “I wanted to give Crystal her first shot at a leading role,” he said. “She’s a local Atlanta girl who had never had this type of opportunity before and she nails it!”
When he told her the news, Fox said to him multiple times, “Are you serious?” She was thrilled to gain Perry’s trust as a lead. “I felt the responsibility to honor that trust,” she said.
Fox, to channel the difficult role of Grace, said she lived and heard enough life experiences of betrayal, recovery and endurance that she tapped into those stories to make Grace’s pain real. “It’s like remembering and reflecting that and sharing it with the audience,” Fox said, “especially those who don’t know these types of stories about African-American women.”
Rashad’s role, which has a twist, was simply “delicious,” the actress said, but didn’t want to say much more for those who have not seen the film yet.
To prepare Webb to play a beaten-down public defender, Perry had her watch a 2013 HBO documentary “Gideon’s Army” about the difficulties of the job. Most public defenders are overworked and encouraged to do plea deals.
“I brought that to the character as much as I could and show the emotions of being frustrated with herself, with the system and her boss,” Webb said.
Perry chose to play a small role as Jasmine’s gruff public defender boss, in part, he said, to help the film generate more publicity and support Fox and Webb. “For my character, it’s all about churn, getting it done,” he said. “People, actual human beings, get lost in the shuffle because of budgets.”
He said he doesn’t really worry about reaction once a film is out; he is already onto his next projects. He gauged this particular film’s efficacy by the screenings, where he watched his core black female audience react in the proper visceral ways.
And proving that life can come full circle, one screening was held at SCADShow, which used to be the 14th Street Playhouse. Perry realized that was the same location he had funded his first play in 1993, one that failed miserably. And now a rapt crowd 28 years later was watching one of his films there.
“I walked into the small theater downstairs and the seats are the same,” he said. “It was so overwhelming for me.”
Fox had a connection there as well: she had performed"For Colored Girls" in that theater as well when Jasmine Guy directed it. And just up the street, she had attended a girls home she had been in as a teen.
So will “A Fall From Grace” be a success on Netflix? Unlike box office grosses, Netflix keeps its internal metrics mostly secret. What numbers Netflix does release are not remotely comparable to regular broadcast and cable statistics.
The media mogul said he’d be thrilled to work with Netflix again. His first experience, he said, was positive: “The first meeting I was in with Netflix was the most diverse I’d ever been in. It blew my mind.”
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.