Tyler Perry received a standing ovation Sunday night at the BET Awards in Los Angeles for his uplifting speech about giving back and trying to “help somebody cross.”
Taraji P. Henson presented the media mogul with BET’s Ultime Icon Award and thanked him for paying her what she was worth, when others in the entertainment industry would not.
“In a time where my counterparts were making way more than I was … Tyler Perry was the first to pay me my worth,” said Henson, who had roles in a string of Perry’s films, including The Family That Preys (2008), I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009) and Acrimony (2018).
In his speech, Perry paid tribute to his mother and recalled trying to make her laugh when his father beat her. Perry said at five years old, he would try to cheer his mom up by imitating the ladies she played cards with.
“There was a power in that, that I didn’t really get, until I got older,” he explained.
He shared a story about walking to a new school at 11 or 12 years old, past “pimps, prostitutes, literally walk through a graveyard.” One day he encountered a man trying to cross a six-lane intersection. The man kept asking people to help him cross, 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,” he said.
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Perry noted his first 10 movies were subconsciously about his mom, “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.”
He then talked about helping Black actors cross hurdles in Hollywood.
“When I started hiring people like 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. I was trying to help somebody cross,” he said.
The writer-producer-director spoke of building his 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 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.”
At that moment, the audience rose to its feet.
“It’s all about trying to help somebody cross. While everybody else was 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,” he stated.
Perry concluded by referring to the Ultimate Icon Award he had just received.
“Rather than being an icon, I want to be an inspiration,” he said. “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.”