Filmmaker, writer and actor Tyler Perry celebrated his 42nd birthday on Tuesday, and based on the word from a new report from Forbes, he could have celebrated in as much style as his heart desired.
The magazine reports that Perry’s annual salary is now $130 million, making him the highest male earner in the entertainment world.
That’s more than filmmaker Steven Spielberg ($107 million), iconic singer/songwriter Elton John ($100 million) or media mogul Simon Cowell ($90 million). It’s even creeping up on the $290 million that Forbes reports Oprah Winfrey brings home.
Perry could not be reached for comment and did not respond to an email or to queries on Twitter. His publicist, Keleigh Thomas, said in an email that he was unavailable because he is busy shooting a I, Alex Cross, a movie in which he plays the detective-psychologist of the same name who is at the center of a series of mystery novels written by James Patterson. Perry’s only tweet on Wednesday made reference to his birthday.
“Is it just me or was 40 old to you too when we were kids?” Perry wrote, adding that he agrees with the take by rapper/producer Jay-Z that 40 is the new 20, “but with sense, lol. Thanks for all the b-day wishes.”
Actor Wendell Pierce, reached via Twitter, said Thursday that Perry has a good sense of how the industry works.
“I have always thought Tyler Perry was a great businessman. He deserves it. He has tapped into the demand of the underserved,” said Pierce, who plays Antoine Batiste in HBO’s Treme. “I want more from his material, but the business model should be replicated in all sectors. Hollywood ignores our audience. Tyler Perry saw the demand and filled the need. Good business.”
Candice Frederick agreed. The New York-based blogger, radio host and CNN guest critic who focuses on African-American film says she believes Perry’s success is based on his venture into areas that had previously been ignored in the film world and his meeting of unmet entertainment needs.
“He’s tapped into an underrepresented market and capitalized on it — not just the black community, but the black community that is largely Christian,” Frederick says. “I think that’s a huge piece of the community that is gravely underrepresented in theater.”
Frederick also made reference to Perry’s range of reach, from his early years in urban theater, where the wisecracking, advice-giving Madea character that he plays in drag initially became popular, to last month’s word from Lionsgate films that it is looking to launch a cable network anchored by Tyler Perry.
There is no denying Perry’s success, which includes 13 plays in 13 years, including a collaboration with megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes, 10 feature films, five NAACP Image Awards this year alone and the 4-year-old Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.
“He’s conquered theater, TV, he might be starting his own cable channel and he’s got movies unlocked, so he’s doing what many black directors have done, but he’s doing more than non-black directors are even doing, for the most part, in terms of tackling different mediums,” Frederick says.
WATCH THIS VIDEO REPORT ON PERRY FROM theGRIO’s TODD JOHNSON:
The news adds a significant notch to the riches end of Perry’s rags-to-riches biography, which, at its lowest point, saw him homeless and trying repeatedly to gain footing with his plays — he finally caught that footing when Atlanta’s Fox Theatre picked up his musical I Know I’ve Been Changed. The news also adds another dimension to the debate that Perry’s work appears to spark.
Members of the public seem to love him or hate him. Some praise his work for being real and for touting Christian messages. They run around quoting Madea, the gun-toting know it all. Others criticize his work as being stereotypical and unflattering of African-Americans. In 2009, filmmaker Spike Lee made critical references to the TV comedies House of Payne and Meet the Browns, created and produced by Perry. “I see two ads for these two shows and I am scratching my head. We got a black president and we going back to Mantan Moreland and Sleep n’ Eat?”
Lee said, referring to two film characters from decades past that portrayed African-Americans as perpetually wide-eyed and frightened, or lazy and shiftless. “We shouldn’t think that Tyler Perry is going to make the same film that I am going to make, or that John Singleton or my cousin Malcolm Lee (would make),” Lee added. “But at the same time for me the image is troubling and it harkens back to Amos n’ Andy. ”
Spike Lee, representatives at Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios and other African-American filmmakers did not respond to requests for interviews, but Frederick echoed some of the critics. She says she believes some of his themes and story lines are repeated from film to film. “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” she says.
As far as public reaction on Twitter was concerned, fans’ feedback was congratulatory.
Tweeted actress Holly Robinson Peete, “Wow … 130 mil in 12 months! Go Tyler!”
Baltimore megachurch pastor Jamal Bryant tweeted, “Say what you want … Tyler Perry was just named by Forbes the wealthiest man in entertainment…. Dress and all!”