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‘Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story’ Documents Entertainment Mogul’s Incredible Rise To The Top

‘Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story’ Documents Entertainment Mogul’s Incredible Rise To The Top

Tyler Perry has conquered the entertainment world — the creative force between two dozen films, 17 television shows, bestselling books and 20 stage plays. He built a thriving studio complex in Atlanta, and just today Deadline reported he has signed a first-look deal with Netflix to produce faith-based films alongside DeVon Franklin.

It’s been a long and improbable journey to the top of his profession, a tale told in the Emmy-contending documentary Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story. Gelila Bekele (Perry’s former life partner) and Armani Ortiz directed the Amazon MGM Studios film, with the first footage shot a decade ago.

“I saw this man becoming busier than ever and I had the privilege of having a front-row seat and I wanted to just document it for archive,” Bekele explained during an appearance at the Deadline Studio at Prime Experience in Hollywood. “I realized there’s a huge chunk of missing history, particularly in the African American community, and the contribution [to] American history that Tyler is making.”

Check out the panel conversation here, and photos of the event below.

Perry grew up poor in New Orleans, descended from a long line of preachers on his mother’s side (the titular Maxine). He suffered constant verbal and physical abuse at the hands of his father, Emmitt Perry Sr., as did his mom. He moved to Atlanta where he became homeless at one point, but an interest in writing (inspired by watching Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show) eventually flowered into a stage career on what is popularly known as the Chitlin’ Circuit.

“As we were doing this documentary, we started to realize that yes, he is an entertainment icon, but when we peel back the layers, he is an incredible human being that has been able to sacrifice and endure so much,” Ortiz observed. “We really wanted that to shine through in the film.”

Perry has revolutionized the industry through the speed at which he creates his productions, streamlining processes to avoid waste. He also pioneered the “10-90” model of television production, whereby he creates an initial 10 episodes of a series and if those prove successful the network or channel carrying them commits to taking 90 more episodes. In building such a large production hub in Atlanta, he has supported a generation of emerging talent both in front of and behind the camera.

Geeta Gandbhir, Armani Ortiz, Gelila Bekele, Jasmine K. White and Asante White

Anthony Avellano for Deadline

Gelila Bekele

Anthony Avellano for Deadline

Armani Ortiz

Anthony Avellano for Deadline

Jasmine K. White

Anthony Avellano for Deadline

Asante White

Anthony Avellano for Deadline

Geeta Gandbhir

Anthony Avellano for Deadline

Jasmine K. White, a producer of the documentary who has worked on a number of productions at Tyler Perry Studios, recalled words of wisdom Perry shared with young creatives. “He calls us all together and he’s like, ‘Hey, let me just say we’re about to do something. It is going to be great, it’s going to be amazing. But to most of you, I want you to know that I never intended for you to stay here. I meant for you to grow here. These are training grounds,’” White recalled. “For myself, starting out so young and being there for over a decade, I’ve grown, I’ve learned, and I feel like he has prepared me for this. I’ve been there for so long and when I got the opportunity to do this, I felt equipped.”

In the film, Perry observes that no one in the industry can say they outwork him. Based on the evidence, that’s not a boast but a plain fact. Asante White, a fellow producer of the documentary, expressed astonishment at Perry’s work ethic. “He not only believes in himself, but he believes in each and every person that he has working for him at the studio,” he noted. “Watching him has caused us to almost, in a sense, believe in ourselves. It’s encouraging, it’s inspiring.”

The film gives space to those who find fault with Perry’s work, including some African American critics who question his depiction of Black women and object to elements of broad comedy in his work. In the past, director Spike Lee was one of Perry’s biggest detractors, but when Perry opened his colossal studio compound in Atlanta in 2019, he named one of the 12 sound stages for Lee. The filmmakers appear to have patched up any lingering differences.

“There was a time when there was tension between him and Spike,” commented executive producer Geeta Gandbhir. “I think what this [film] also showcases, aside from his incredible story, is that there is a space for so many different kinds of art from different perspectives. Like, who is to say that his films are not art or don’t serve a purpose or don’t have a place? This, to me, was a really powerful lesson that I think that we can take to the world.”

For more Deadline Studio at Prime Experience content, click here.

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