Last night’s BET Awards was a full on celebration of Black culture that acknowledged DC’s Chocolate City, The Exonerated Five, Mary J Blige, Nipsey Hussle and a host of other celebrities. But Tyler Perry’s speech while accepting his Ultimate Icon award, gave us our favorite moment of the night (next to Mary J Blige’s nostalgic performances).
After thanking his new BET family where the multihyphenate genius is set to create new series, Tyler asked the audience to be seated as he shared stories that led him to that stage.
“I couldn’t help but think about my mother. I remember being a kid about 5 years old, she would take me to the projects with her when she played cards on Friday nights with a bunch of women. Now these women didn’t have more than a 12th grade education but they were smart Black women, they were powerful Black women they had great stories to tell."
He talked about how at five years old, it was like a master class listening to the women detail their relationships and pain, and then seeing how their sadness would go away for a moment when another woman would tell a joke to make everyone laugh.
"I didn’t know I was in a master class for my life."
Perry went on to share how he would imitate those same women to make his mother laugh at home after she was physically and verbally abused by his father.
“There was a power in that, that I didn’t really get until I got older.”
He shared a story about walking to school at 11 or 12 years old when he saw a man trying to cross a six lane intersection. The man kept asking people to help him cross the street so he could get to school to sell candy, but no one would stop.
“I helped him cross the street. We became good friends, his name was Mister Butler. That moment reminded me of my mother, bringing her out of her pain with laughter, helping her cross.”
Helping people cross became the motif for the remainder of his speech. He talked about how his first 10 films were about his mother and “wanting her to know she’s worthy, wanting to let Black women know you’re worthy, you’re special, you’re powerful, you’re amazing. All of that, that was about helping her cross.”
Perry talked about helping Black actors like Taraji, Viola Davis and Idris Elba cross by hiring them for jobs when no one in Hollywood would do so.
He went on to talk about how dressing up as Madea was a means to an end to be able to build Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.
“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. I was trying to help somebody cross,” he said. “The studio was once a Confederate Army base, which meant that 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.”
The speech could have ended there because the crowd was on their feet. But he continued, sharing why he created the studio.
“It’s all about trying to help somebody cross. While everybody else was fighting for a seat at the table, talking about ‘#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.”
Perry ended his uplifting speech with a charge.
“Rather than being an icon, I want to be an inspiration. 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.”
Tyler, because of YOU!