September 26, 2019 Atlanta - Portrait of Tyler Perry in Tyler Perry Studios on Thursday, September 26, 2019. On Oct. 5, Tyler Perry will hold the ceremonial grand opening for his movie studio at Fort McPherson. He bought the land in 2015 and the complex has been up and running for a couple years. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Tyler Perry explains why he didn’t speak about abortion bill when boycott talk was peaking in the spring

Originally posted Wednesday, October 9, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Most of you are surely sick of Tyler Perry stories at this point but I had five minutes with him last week and didn’t get around to posting what he said at the time. 

Perry was aware of what I wrote a few months during the heat of the calls of a boycott against Georgia over the restrictive “heartbeat’ abortion bill Gov. Brian Kemp signed in May. I did an entire item noting that Perry himself had been “mum” on the issue and pondered why.

Now that the boycott talk has simmered down and a federal court placed an injunction on the law, Perry opened up to the AJC and other outlets.

Not surprisingly, to the AJC, he said, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Perry has lived in Atlanta since he was 20 and has shot all his movies and TV shows here. He built his first major studio in Atlanta and has invested more than $250 million in the current 330-acre Fort McPherson site he officially opened this past weekend with a massive gala. 

Even if the TV and film tax credits go away, Perry will stay and continue to build his empire.

And he explicitly stated his opposition to the bill to the AP

“I don’t believe any man should be able to tell a woman what she can do with her body or reproductive organs,” he said.

So Perry told me why he held off on saying anything in May or June: “I just didn’t feel it was time to talk about it,” He said. “Sometimes you have to take a step back, calm down, wait a minute and see what happens and see how this goes.”

He was well aware that many Hollywood types are not happy so much production has left California. They wanted to use this abortion issue, he said, to fan the flames of resentment and pressure people not to come to Georgia. 

“That’s what people are missing,” he said. “I didn’t want to jump into it. There is a financial interest in California having an issue with Georgia because a lot of production is here. They can create a moment. ‘Don’t go to Georgia because pecans fall from trees!’ Then you have an issue. When you have something as serious as abortion, as serious as religious freedom, these are serious things that really need serious consideration. They will have major consequences. My approach is to take a deep breath before I jump in.”

We then moved on to why he decided to hold a celebration now, three-plus years after he opened the studios. Several films and TV shows such as “First Man” and “The Walking Dead” have used his backlot and stages already. 

“I wasn’t planning to open this place until now,” he said. “I wanted to finish all the sound stages, make sure all the services were there. But the minute I had my first stage up there, ‘Can I rent it?’ There’s still sawdust. ‘I’ll take it!’”

The demand was there every time he built a new stage. “I’ve been running to catch up,” he said. 

The 12th and final stage was finished just last month. “There’s still pine straw,” he said. “We haven’t had time to plant grass around parts of it.” 

He also explained why he named each sound stage after a famous African American film maker and/or actor. That list included Della Reese, John Singleton, Diahann Carroll, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Cicely Tyson, Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Belafonte, Denzel Washington and Spike Lee. Many of them showed up at the gala and family members of the deceased were there as well. 

Perry said he’s walked the backlots and stages of Warner Brothers and other studios in Los Angeles, festooned with names of famous Hollywood types of yore. But he saw no black people on the signs. “We made contributions to film and we’re not mentioned at all,” he said. “Here’s a moment I can honor black people who were excellent in what they’ve done but never appreciated, never shown how much their contributions have meant to all of us.”

Perry said he had a list of 50 names to choose from but he has no plans to build 50 stages. So he said it was difficult to trim down. 

Lee, given his career accomplishments, was a no brainer. But Lee in the past has criticized Perry’s work and it stung. The two have since buried the hatchet.

“Whatever it is he and I had,” Perry said, “whatever his opinion of my work, whatever my opinion of his work, the truth is his contributions are undeniable. So I called and asked if he’d accept the honor. He was very happy and gracious to do so.”

Lee showed up on the red carpet to sing Perry’s praises. 

“He’s a player,” Lee said to me.

Perry in 2017 signed a major deal with Viacom (BET, Nickelodeon, VH1, MTV, Paramount, et. al) following deals with TBS, then OWN. He has two dramas “Sistas” and “The Oval” debuting on BET October 23. Much of his content is available for streaming on the new BET+ network. He is already talking about a series for Nickelodeon.

OWN, he said, was just a single network and didn’t give him enough room and budget to program what he wanted to program

Viacom, he said, provides him more opportunities to spread his wings and release even more content. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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