Tyler Perry protégé examines ’90s Atlanta in BET+’s ‘Perimeter’

Armani Ortiz blends Freaknik, hip-hop, drugs, race, crime and power politics in fictional relationship drama.
Paige Dawn (Ava Mone't), a promising sophomore student at Spelman College falls in love with a drug dealer Malcolm (Malcolm Xavier) in BET+'s "Perimeter." BET+

Credit: BET+

Credit: BET+

Paige Dawn (Ava Mone't), a promising sophomore student at Spelman College falls in love with a drug dealer Malcolm (Malcolm Xavier) in BET+'s "Perimeter." BET+

Armani Ortiz, an up-and-coming filmmaker, spent years following media mogul Tyler Perry, shooting a documentary about him that ended up on Amazon last year called “Maxine’s Baby.”

Ortiz, who moved to Atlanta a decade ago, also had his own screenwriting aspirations. He had heard stories about Atlanta in the early 1990s and became fascinated by the time period as the city was prepping for the Olympics, grappling with an annual street party called Freaknik and enjoying the rise of the city’s hip-hop scene. Atlanta was also dominated by Black politicians and law enforcement leaders.

So in 2018, Ortiz began writing a screenplay that Perry helped turn into what would become a four-episode test run drama called “Perimeter,” which debuted Feb. 29 on the BET+ streaming service. Set in 1992, the series features Freaknik as a major plot point.

“Tyler came to Atlanta in part because of Freaknik,” said Ortiz in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He saw all these Black and brown people being more successful than those he saw in New Orleans.”

The series is focused around the fictional Dawn family: 20-year-old Spelman student Paige (Ava Mone’t), her doting mother Connia (Tatyana Ali of “Fresh Prince” fame) and ambitious Atlanta councilman Robert (Donavan Christie Jr.). Paige falls in love with a drug dealer Malcolm (Malcolm Xavier) who wants out of this dangerous trade. Her father gets caught up in his own shady dealings as he pushes to become mayor. And the city’s first Black female police chief (Sharon Conley) is also trying to crack down on the city’s drug trade.

“My muse for this show was from Dante’s ‘Inferno’: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’,” Ortiz said.

And Ortiz purposely chose a very Atlanta-specific geographic term for the show title. Perimeter is designation he only learned when he moved here.

“First and foremost,” he said, “I wanted Atlanta to be its own character in the story.”

“Perimeter” was not a high-budget affair.

“We were very much an indie project,” Ortiz said. “We shot four episodes over nine days. We went to the Alliance Theatre and rehearsed for two weeks straight so when we got on set, we could get it done.”

He shot most of the scenes at Tyler Perry Studios, including a street packed with cars and partying Atlantans during Freaknik. He also shot a scene at the Shrine of the Black Madonna on Abernathy Road and exteriors around the West End not far from the studio.

If BET+ gets enough positive feedback, he said they will commission more episodes and he has script ideas ready to go.

Ortiz also noticed that Hulu was coincidentally shooting a documentary about Freaknik that is set to come out March 21, three weeks after “Perimeter.”

“I call it kismet,” Ortiz said.

He was also taken aback by Perry’s announcement last week that Perry would halt an $800 million expansion of his studio after seeing videos created by Sora, a text-to-video artificial intelligence engine, worried this would greatly reduce the need for traditional filmmaking.

“We have to try to embrace technology as much as we can, but with caution,” Ortiz said. “This can be used incorrectly. Hopefully over time it becomes less scary and we can make beautiful art with this while not substituting the artists.”


“Perimeter,” available now on BET+