When it comes to his filmmaking, we can debate all day whether or not Tyler Perry is one of the greats. His latest offering, A Fall From Grace, was particularly jarring in how poorly executed it was. The film was shot in five days and it really showed. Above everything else, it also brought to the surface once again the conversation over the opinion that Perry seems to only write Black women as characters who are suffering and desperate for love. So desperate in fact that they would take on a man with no back story and a bad hairline. Though I will never forgive Perry for that horrific wig he put on Mehcad Brooks for his role as Shannon, I have to say, when it comes to doing right by Black women, in real life, Mr. Perry is hitting it out of the park.
The big news this past week was, of course, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s escape from the tentacles of the British royal family. In their tell-all interview with Oprah, the pair revealed that Tyler Perry was the one who offered them residence as well as security when they were fresh out. They had been cut off financially and the British press exposed their Canadian residence. Lockdown had just begun and there was no telling when it would be lifted. Without security and with the press hounding them and baby Archie, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were backed into a corner. In came Perry, who offered up his Los Angeles mansion for them to crash in. “We didn’t have a plan,” Markle revealed. “We needed a house, and he offered his security as well, so it gave us breathing room to try to figure out what we were going to do.” They stayed there for three months before moving into their own abode.
Markle’s revelation is only the latest in Perry’s support of Black women. In February, Taraji P. Henson also shared how Perry was the first director to truly compensate her appropriately. This was shocking, given the fact that the actress had been in Oscar-nominated films such as Hustle and Flow as well as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button prior to starring in I Can Do Bad All by Myself in 2009. What was even more startling was just how little she made starring as Queenie in Benjamin Button. The film grossed $335 million, yet Henson only made $40,000 after paying her team. “Me and my team felt like I was finally at this place where I could ask for half a million,” she stated on an episode of the InStyle podcast Ladies First with Laura Brown. “I felt like what I was asking — at that time of my career — was fair to the ticket sales that I would contribute to this big film. [The studio] wouldn’t do it. They did $100,000 — which is what they offered right away, and then I was gutted.”
Nonetheless, Henson took the job thinking it would raise her status in Hollywood and she would then be able to request more money for future roles. She was wrong. Despite garnering an Oscar nomination for Benjamin Button, she still wasn’t able to raise her price until she worked with Perry. “I’m grateful to Tyler for putting me on the road to being paid my worth. It was he who gave me a fair wage to star in his movie, which ultimately raised my quote…” she wrote in her memoir, Around the Way Girl (per IndieWire). “It was because of him — not an Oscar nomination — that I never had to take another movie project at the rock bottom of six figures.”
In her own memoir, Cicely Tyson also opened up about the subtle way Perry showed appreciation for her talent. By the time she passed away in January of this year, Tyson was a renowned legend. However, as illustrated by Henson’s situation, just because the world reveres their work doesn’t mean Hollywood is willing to do right by Black actresses. That being said, for a long time in her career, Tyson was also grossly underpaid. After Perry found out about this, he always made it a point to give her paychecks an extra bump whenever they worked together. “When he heard how little I was paid for Sounder and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, his mouth fell open,” Tyson wrote in Just As I Am: A Memoir. “From then on, he decided to double, and sometimes even triple or quadruple, my asking price for any role he requested that I play.”
Henson and Tyson’s stories are not the only instances in which Tyler Perry has pulled through for Black women. He has been a devoted philanthropist and his generosity is unquestionable, from paying a fair wage to paying to help a rising star overcome insecurities about her skin. Among one of his greatest acts is the fact that he stepped in to help out the family of Tynesha Evans back in 2019 after she was murdered by her boyfriend. The writer/director offered to pay the family’s rent so they didn’t have to worry about being evicted. He also offered to cover tuition costs for one of Evans’ daughters who was attending Spelman at the time. If that wasn’t enough, he arranged for Evans’ body to be flown home to Wisconsin so her family could have a proper funeral.
The merit of Perry’s work will always be up for debate. Entertainment is arbitrary after all. However, with the term ally being thrown around so leisurely, it’s great to see a man who is about that action, especially when it comes to Black women. It’s one thing to create a table for yourself. It’s an entirely different thing to understand that making space and accommodating others only makes your table that much more full. So on that front, kudos to Mr. Perry.