The Atlanta filmmaker was driving to work this week when he noticed a sign on Georgia State Route 166 had changed. A green exit sign that once read “Fort McPherson” now says “Tyler Perry Studios.”
Then Perry realized something else.
His name was next to the exit sign for Sylvan Road, the street where he lived before he was evicted in the late ’90s. Before he made it big, he struggled to make his rent payments and lived out of his car for about three months.
Perry’s dream didn’t come true overnight. It took years of determination and hard work before he got to where he is today.
Here are some reasons why Perry is so beloved.
He broke ground with his character Madea
The making of the character Madea helped make Perry the successful mogul he is today.
For more than 20 years Perry wore a dress, wig and makeup to portray the elderly, no-nonsense black woman.
He first debuted Mabel Earlene “Madea” Simmons on stage in the play “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” in 1999.
Madea later moved to the big screen, where her movies have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars despite some criticism that the character stereotypes black women.
He gave a powerful speech about Hollywood politics
He told the crowd of how he created his own movie and TV projects that depicted black people, rather than fighting for acceptance in a predominantly white industry.
“While everybody was fighting for a seat at the table talking about #OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoWhite, I said, ‘Y’all go ahead and do that,'” he said. “But 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.”
He also shared how his mother and her friends became the inspiration for his first few projects.
“My first 10 movies were all about her, subconsciously wanting her to know that she was worthy — wanting black women to know you’re worthy, you’re special, you’re powerful, you’re amazing,” he said.
His studio could become one of the largest of its kind
Tyler Perry Studios has a story of its own.
“The studio was once a Confederate Army base,” Perry said at this year’s BET Awards. “And, I want you to hear this, 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.”
His compassion for others is a reflection of his life
Perry’s desire to give back to others is seen in so many examples.
It’s who he is, and his upbringing played a big role in that.
Born Emmit Perry Jr., Perry changed his name to distance himself from his father who beat him and his mother. Perry forgave him in his mid-20s after learning about his father’s abusive childhood.
He remembers what it’s like not to have food and a roof over his head.
It wasn’t until his sold-out gig at the House of Blues in Atlanta in 1998, the seventh year of trying to make a name for himself as a playwright, did his career turn around.
“I always believed that it would work,” he said. “No matter what happened, it would work. No matter what, one day it would come to pass.”
CNN’s Lisa Respers France and Chloe Melas contributed to this report.