As he accepted the Ultimate Icon award at the 2019 BET Awards, Tyler Perry made sure to note that he wanted to be more than just an icon to some — he wanted to be viewed as an inspiration.
His message was one of inspiration to other black creatives looking to change the mold and break into industries that had long considered them outcasts and outsiders.
Taraji P. Henson during her introduction of Perry said, “In a time when my counterparts were making way more money than I was, Tyler Perry was the first to pay me my exact worth.”
In his speech, Perry recalled his now well-known story of growing up in an abusive household and how he used to make his mother laugh by imitating the women she played cards with. Those experiences in Perry’s eyes, helped him craft his first 10 movies.
“That moment reminded me of my mother, bringing out of her pain with laughter, helping her cross,” he said. He added that he created those film in hopes of letting his mother know “she’s worthy, to let black women know you are worthy, you are special, you are powerful, you are amazing. All of that that was about helping her cross.”
He added how the creation of Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta was a game changer for black filmmakers and gave many actors such as Taraji and Viola Davis their big break. “When I built my studio, I built it in a neighborhood that is one of the poorest black neighborhoods in Atlanta so that young black kids could see that a black man did that, and they can do it too,” he continued. “I was trying to help somebody cross. The studio was once a Confederate Army base, which meant that there was Confederate soldiers on that base, plotting and planning on how to keep 3.9 million Negroes enslaved. Now that land is owned by one Negro.”
He added, “It’s all about trying to help somebody cross. While everybody else is fighting for a seat at the table, talking about ‘#OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoWhite,’ I said, ‘Y’all go ahead and do that. While you’re fighting for a seat at the table, I’ll be down in Atlanta building my own.’ Because what I know for sure is that if I could just build this table, God will prepare it for me in the presence of my enemies.”
Watch the powerful speech below.