Cinematic innovator Tyler Perry is synonymous with success and having the Midas touch in the writers’ room and with his business ventures. From OWN to Netflix and BET Plus, his impact on the media and entertainment industry is in no way wavering and omnipresent on our screens. Mr. Perry sat for an interview to discuss his philosophies and strategies for success and how the next generation of moguls can find their way. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Making Of A Mogul
From Humble origins in New Orleans, Tyler Perry set the foundation for his ascension to media mogul by writing letters to himself about his daily activities and thoughts. The letters were the building blocks for Mr. Perry writing his first play, I Know I’ve Been Changed which didn’t gain local success until six years later. Stage plays with his signature character Madea would ultimately be the cornerstone of his empire and catapult his global success.
Stephanie Tharpe: At what moment in your life did you know that you were destined for something more?
Tyler Perry: I always felt very certain, from a very young age, that there was something more in me than what I was surrounded by and what I saw. I always felt out of place growing up in New Orleans, so getting to Atlanta and seeing black people do well for the first time is why I moved there the first weekend I’d ever gone. It reminded me that Black people could do well and be doctors and lawyers and things I hadn’t seen in the world. From a very young age, I knew there was something in me. Every decision that I made, the good and the not-so-good, has all pointed me in the direction of getting here. So I’ve had to learn to follow and trust what I feel inside is the right thing to do and go with it.
Opening Up On Ownership
Intellectual property protections account for more than $8 trillion in economic activity, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The current social media landscape relies on and capitalizes on user-created content. Everything you share or post has monetary value, and leveraging that content through ownership can help Black creators and entrepreneurs maximize their profits and the longevity of their businesses. To bridge the wage gap, Black entrepreneurs should strive to obtain legal ownership of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Historically U.S. copyrighting laws have disproportionately marginalized Black people trying to obtain them and still do. This fact furthers the need to facilitate more guidance and discourse within the Black community on ways to obtain ownership of our physical and intellectual property.
Stephanie Tharpe: Since the beginning of your career, you have retained ownership of your studio and all intellectual property. Why is ownership pivotal to advancing Black economics and community?
Tyler Perry: I always had an understanding of the power of ownership. When my father was building houses, he would come home and make about $800, but the guy who sold the house would make $80,000. I always knew that the person who owned the house would have been in a much better position. What I’ve tried to do with my life is to hold on to ownership of everything I’ve done and created; so that I can put myself in a position to own a studio; and in a financial place to hire more people. I think that Black ownership is going to produce long-lasting change. The more of us who become owners, and not just actors, writers, or directors, but owners, is what’s going to change how this entire industry is run.
Stephanie Tharpe: A significant setback that plagues Black entrepreneurs is access to opportunity. Often, we have to have a track record of success before anyone is willing to take a chance on us. Have you ever had to encounter that? If so, how were you able to negotiate through those situations?
Tyler Perry: Early in my career, I never thought people would invest in me; I never thought that if I auditioned, I would get the job. I always felt like I was at a disadvantage. I wasn’t in Hollywood, Black guy, tall guy. How am I going to figure all this out? What I learned to accept in all that is, here’s the hand I was dealt. Now how do I make this work? So what I would say to anyone trying to break in, breakthrough, and people don’t invest is to keep going because every closed door is part of a maze forcing you to go in a different direction to get your answer.
Stephanie Tharpe: What advice would you give aspiring black moguls who want to follow in your footsteps?
Tyler Perry: What I’m saying to them right now, what is the goal? What is your goal? Where do you want to be? Where do you want to end up? And focus on that. Do everything to serve that goal and anything that doesn’t, don’t do. Everything has to be about serving the goal to get you there. That’s exactly what I did, and I hope more people can do that as well.
Before the Civil War, the land the now Fort McPherson is situated on was once a meeting place for local militias in Georgia. After the state of Georgia’s secession from the Union, the land became a Confederate base. Later it would be repurposed into a hospital and training ground during the Spanish American War and an internment camp for German POWs in WWI. Tyler Perry purchased 330 acres of Fort McPherson in 2015 and 37.5 acres in 2022. To preserve the history and significance of the former Fort, Mr. Perry has preserved forty buildings and 33 acres of land recognized by the National Registry of Historic Places.
Stephanie Tharpe: Tyler Perry Studios was built on a former Confederate military base, Fort McPherson. How does it feel to take back possession of the land that once fought to uphold the practice of slavery?
Tyler Perry: It feels great on so many levels. I think about the debt we owe to our ancestors, what they endured, and how they had no choice. Sometimes I look at some of the things we’re doing, and we’re just acting like fools and not remembering the struggle they went through so that we can have these opportunities. It feels amazing to understand that this land was used to plot against black people and now it is land that I use to strategize to help Black people advance. It was a powerful moment for me.
Stephanie Tharpe: When people hear the name Tyler Perry what do you want them to remember about your legacy?
Tyler Perry: He did it his way, ownership was the key, and he helped a lot of people get there.
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