During a narrator’s conversation with Gayle King at the Tribeca Film Festival, Tyler Perry spoke publicly for the first time about the moments after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Academy Awards. Perry was seen talking to Smith after the incident, but the actor, director, and producer made it clear that he was “de-escalating” the situation, rather than pleasing Smith.
“I was there up close, I left early to go and check on Chris because he was a mistake in no uncertain terms,” Perry said. “I made sure I said that to Will, and when we walked over to him, he was devastated. He couldn’t believe what had happened.”
“I think he’s thinking a lot about trying to find out what happened,” he continued.
Berry went on to cite Smith’s bestselling memoir “Will,” where the Academy Award-winning actor detailed a moment when he was unable to protect his mother at the age of eight.
“I know that feeling, I get goosebumps thinking about it,” Berry said. “I know what it feels like to be a man and to think of a young child. If this trauma is not dealt with immediately as you get older, it will turn out at the most horrible and inappropriate of times.”
But when King asked if Perry comforted Smith at that moment, he made a clear distinction.
“There is a difference between de-escalation and de-escalation,” Perry said. “Being friends with both of them, it was very difficult.”
However, the conversation mainly focused on the success of Tyler Perry Studios, which King soon suggested introduced Perry.
Tyler Perry Studios [is] 330 acres. what is his size? It’s said to be bigger than Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount, and Sony – combined,” King said. “A round of applause please.”
He replied, “Every time I hear what I’m thinking, ‘That’s why you’re so tired. That’s why you sleep so much.”
Perry, 52, was homeless and slept in his car, which was ready for recovery. He is now the highest paid black actor in Hollywood, and his salary last year was $154 million.
“My payroll — not my bills — was $154 million,” Berry said. And that’s for 99% of blacks. These are the people who have never had a chance in the industry.”
Much of Perry’s fortune comes from his massive movie complex in Atlanta, which currently includes 12 soundtracks. Perry said each stage is named after the African Americans who really inspired him, including Smith and fellow director Spike Lee, who once criticized Perry’s audience for voting their time by “sitting in front of an idiot box.”
“I honored him because I didn’t care what he said,” Berry said. How can I ignore his contribution? If he hadn’t done what he did, I wouldn’t be here.”
King, who deeply appreciated Berry’s work throughout the hour-long panel discussion, said he was motivated not by fame or money, but by his love for his work.
“I’m not thinking about getting tired, and I’m not thinking about making another top-grossing movie,” Berry said. “Honestly, my hands to God, I think of the audience I have built since the beginning of my career. What do we want to see? What is going to talk to us? What will make us laugh? That is always the intention and everything follows it.”
However, this audience that Perry has cultivated over the years, hasn’t always been in line with the mainstream interests of Hollywood studios.
“There was such a thing as a ‘crossover’ when I started having success,” Berry said. “Tyler, what are you going to do to cross? Which means, ‘What would you do to make eggs like you? What are you going to do to become more popular?” I’ve always rejected it because I’ve always felt that whoever invented this line of intersection, that line goes both ways. Come on what we’re doing, you don’t have to go there.”
King highlighted how Perry spoke frankly about being a survivor of the abuse and violence he witnessed growing up. When asked how he was able to heal without seeing a therapist, Berry referred to his work.
“Work is the cure,” he said. “As a writer, every character has a motive. If I was writing, ‘and she got up and went to the stove,’ there had to be a reason. Why did she go to the stove? What was she trying to do? Want to cook this? I started applying that to my own life Why do you feel this way? Why did you say that? Why did you get so angry about it? Because I feel like everything in our lives as men and women and children – there’s a streak going back to something in your past. And for me, as a writer, I try to chase that streak for motivation.”
To many people around the world, Perry is best known as the creator and performer of the character Madea who has appeared in 11 films. While Berry initially planned to retire from a fictional elderly woman, he decided to bring the character back for more projects.
“I’m done, but political division, social injustice, hate and rage and rage, being bombed and fed with negativity constantly was killing me,” Berry said. “I was like, We have to laugh. We have to do something. What am I supposed to make us laugh?”
Perry believes that the solution to reduce this passivity is to embrace a bipartisanship.
“If someone didn’t want to get in the middle and have a conversation, we would always be polarised,” Berry concluded. “Healing and helping happen in the middle, and I hoped we’d start electing officials who should stand in the middle.”