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Tyler Perry was honored with international television market MIPCOM‘s World Screen Trendsetter Award on Monday, where the director, producer and actor spoke about resuming production amid COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Perry’s 330-acre Atlanta studios — built on Fort McPherson, a Confederate army base where “there’s still streets that are named after Confederate generals and soldiers that are being taken down, as I’ve erected monuments to Black people like Denzel Washington and Oprah Winfrey and Cicely Tyson and Whoopi Goldberg and their names are on sound stages on the same land” — have housed the casts and crews of four different shows and seen the completion of 82 episodes ready for 2021. Before stepping on set, people quarantined for two weeks on the lot and there’s been regular testing and mask wearing.
“I had to do everything I could and go above and beyond to make sure that the cast and crew was safe, especially because Black and brown people are the ones who are dying the most from the disease,” Perry said, adding he also wanted to bring some levity to the quarantine experience by hosting outdoor movies, workout classes and food trucks at the studio.
“It was really fun, so much so that all of the casts are asking, ‘Can we come back next year?’ I’m like, ‘Listen, if there’s a vaccine and COVID is over, this is over,'” he joked, noting that pandemic safety precautions are adding 15 to 20 percent to his shows’ traditional costs.
Elsewhere in the virtual conversation with World Screen’s group editorial director Anna Carugati, Perry touched on his childhood and path to becoming a media mogul, as well as the power of television to create change during a time of racial justice movements in the U.S.
“What made the civil rights movements so powerful were the visuals and the images from television. That is television at its best, when you can take an image and show it to the world and affect change,” Perry said. “That is exactly what happened with George Floyd’s horrific murder. The very visual of watching it played out in real time spoke to every human being on this planet who had a heart to say, ‘Listen, this is not right.’ That is the power of this business: that is the power of an actor, of a writer, of a news anchor. That is the power of television, and when it’s used in the right way and for the right thing, it can change the world.”
Speaking on his new Nickelodeon family comedy Young Dylan and importance of depicting diversity for younger audiences, he added that despite the highly publicized attacks on the Black community and current political climate, he maintains hope by looking back at history.
“I have to hold on to the fact that we came here in slave ships, that we were enslaved. I have to hold on to the fact that there were colored and white water fountains and all of these things, these injustices, that we have gotten past,” Perry said. “As I look to the future of all the things that we still have to fight our way through, I look at how much heavy lifting has already been done. If I ignored the history and didn’t pay attention to the history, the future will look very dim, but I know there have been changes so I have to look forward.”
The superproducer, who has a long-term TV and film pact with Viacom, has written 1,275 episodes of television, 22 feature films and more than 20 plays, most of which he has also directed.
MIPCOM’s in-person event, originally set to run Oct. 12 to 14 in Cannes, was called off in September amid the pandemic and rescheduled for the online-only MIPCOM Online+, which goes through Friday.
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