As Lena Waithe continues to contend with the backlash against her comments on the general lack of power and control wielded by black people in Hollywood, Tyler Perry seemingly echoed Waithe in his rousing acceptance speech during last night’s BET Awards in Los Angeles.
Receiving the Ultimate Icon Award at Sunday night’s event from Taraji P. Henson, the actor-writer-director-producer, whose wealth was built primarily on his popular “Madea” movie franchise, made the themes of ownership, self-reliance and opening doors for others the cornerstones of his nearly four-minute speech.
Perry began with honoring his mother and her women friends who he grew up around and learned from as a young boy. He reflected on the ways they were supportive of each other in times of struggle, and how he tried to do the same for his mother when his father beat her. He then told a touching childhood story of how he guided a man across a six-lane road, connecting that to his mother, stating that he “helped her cross” from the pain, and how what he witnessed and learned as a child inspired the philosophy that guides him today, both personally and professionally.
“When I started hiring Taraji, Viola Davis and Idris Elba, they couldn’t get jobs in this town but God blessed me to be in a position to be able to hire them,” Perry said. “I was trying to help somebody cross.”
That obligation to helping others cross led to his building his own massive studio in one of Atlanta’s poor neighborhoods, which also happened to be the grounds of a former Confederate Army base. It’s a doubly symbolic move that serves as both an inspiration for young black children, but also, as he put it: “[it] meant there were 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,” Perry said, as the Microsoft Theater audience stood while applauding.
While acknowledging the efforts of industry diversity movements like #OscarsSoWhite, Perry insisted on proprietorship as a better path to creating opportunity for underrepresented groups. “You all go ahead and do that,” he said of #OscarsSoWhite. “While you’re fighting for a seat at the table, I’ll be down in Atlanta building my own.”
He ended his sermon with an exclamation mark, emphasizing that call to ownership, stating, “I want you to hear this, every dreamer in this room. There are people whose lives are tied into your dream. Own your stuff. Own your business. Own your way!”
In a June 21 interview with the New York Times, Lena Waithe shared her frustrations with what she sees is an industry that’s slow to change, specifically addressing how much progress black people still have to make. “We had a black man run this country, and we still have yet to have a black man run a major studio,” she said. “That tells you a lot about where we’re at as an industry, we’re still trying to play catch-up.”
Effectively challenging Denzel Washington and Will Smith, Waithe also spoke out on the lack of black film financiers. “How many of those do we have?” she asked.
She praised the selfless, communal efforts of Ava DuVernay, as well as her own push to “build a community,” and bring about irreversible change, “but we’re all in our own silos doing our own thing,” she said. “I want more.”
With both essentially calling for more ownership, community building and helping others “cross,” Waithe and Perry are arguably on the same page.
Watch Tyler Perry’s full unintentional “response” to Waithe below: