Tyler Perry covers People: ‘I don’t think I ever felt safe as a child’


Tyler Perry kind of exploded on my timeline yesterday. The news was mostly about Tyler teaming with Nickelodeon on a children’s/live-action show that will star a 10-year-old rapper named Young Dylan. The other was an article in the Los Angeles Times about next Sunday’s dedication ceremony of 12 new sound stages at his Tyler Perry’s Studios, the first movie studio to be owned solely by an African American without corporation backing or partners, and built on a former Confederate army base. It’s a good article and in it, Tyler thoughtfully discusses the Atlanta film boycott. Fortunately, since the article, the ACLU eliminated the need for a boycott by successfully blocking the terrible abortion ban. But the reason his dedication ceremony stood out for me was because of all he had to overcome to get where he is. Well beyond poverty and discrimination, Tyler suffered sexual abuse by relatives and ongoing physical abuse by his father, Emmitt Perry. In the latest issue of People, Tyler talked about forgiving his father, what it took to get there and why he had to do it.

The New Orleans-raised Perry’s late mother, Maxine (who would later help inspire Madea), was married to Emmitt Perry, a construction contractor. Emmitt, says Tyler, was an abusive alcoholic who once beat Tyler so severely with a vacuum cord that it ripped the skin off his back. (Emmitt Perry could not be reached for comment.)

“I don’t think I ever felt safe or protected as a child,” Perry tells PEOPLE.

His mother once tried to leave her husband, but the situation was complicated. “He had a job and was a provider,” Perry says.

He also says he was sexually abused by three different men and a woman, all family acquaintances, by the time he was 10 years old. “It was rape,” he says. “I didn’t know what was going on or the far-reaching effects of it. I just moved through it.” At the time, he adds, he believed “Boys don’t cry, shut up and move on.”

His mother took him to church and opened him up to a world of deep religious faith. “I’m so grateful for that,” he says. “If I wouldn’t have had that, I don’t know where I’d be. That was our North Star, the Bible, faith, church.”

Perry and his mother remained extremely close until her death in 2009 from complications of diabetes. “Sometimes I wake up from crying because I miss her so much,” he says.

His relationship with his father was a different situation. Perry found out when he was 41 that Emmitt was not his biological father. Perry now supports him financially, though they don’t have any other relationship — and he has forgiven his father.

“[It took] a tremendous amount of prayer,” Perry says. “But the biggest thing that helped me understand it is that me holding on to what I was holding on to wasn’t hurting him…but it was killing me.”

Since forgiving his dad, Perry says he’s felt a burden lift. “I’m telling you, the shift and forgiveness in me left me raw because it was a weight inside,” he says. “Once I let it go, I literally felt lighter inside.”

“I chose to be as positive and inspirational and I can, because I don’t want to feel that again.”

[From People]

Tyler’s talked about his childhood before, but I didn’t understand how bad it was. He began the interview saying he’d hide under the porch to escape his father and it was there he’d daydream about stories and characters that sparked his love of storytelling. I appreciate that Tyler forgave his father so that he, Tyler, could move on with his life. Hearing stories such as his, I’m inclined to think I could never forgive a person like that. But I’ve never been in that situation, so I certainly have no idea what a person who has needs to do to get on. If forgiveness brought him peace, I’m glad he was able to do it. I’m struggling with the idea that he’s supporting his father, especially since the article suggested it was financial dependence that kept Tyler’s mother from leaving, but again, Tyler has obviously been on a journey that allowed his to excel, he’s doing what he needs to move on, more power to him.

I also applaud Tyler for choosing to live his life with positivity. I realize it’s not really a choice but something you have to actively work to obtain and the fact that Tyler was able to get there is extraordinary on its own. The fact that he has used those lessons to improve the lives of strangers is even more commendable. I’ve always appreciated Tyler’s success but now that I know how much it took for him to get there, I’m thoroughly impressed.




Photo credit: People and WENN Photos

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24 Responses to “Tyler Perry covers People: ‘I don’t think I ever felt safe as a child’”

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  1. Some chick says:

    I find it helpful to think of it as “letting it go” rather than forgiving. Letting go of the anger. Of the obsessing. It’s easier said than done. But I know there are some things I cannot and will not forgive. But if I can let go of it and move beyond it, it really does help staying calm and positive.

    And as they say, living well truly is the best revenge!

    • Who ARE these people? says:

      Well said. There’s a lot of pressure on survivors to “forgive” abuse and it becomes another way society moves to let abusers off the hook. It is possible to release emotions and live well but forgiveness is usually a response to someone asking for it by acknowledging a wrong and with child abuse that rarely happens.

  2. Becks1 says:

    Wow, I had no idea his childhood was so bad.

    I like the line about how holding on wasn’t hurting his father, but was killing him. I think that’s a hard thing for many to grasp. I know I struggle with it with certain people in my life.

  3. Who ARE these people? says:

    Did his father acknowledge or apologize for beating his son?

  4. SM says:

    Sexualy abused and raped by multiple people before age of 10? An abusive father? Wow. This is just sickening. And he turned out better than an average person. People like this is the reason humanity has hope and is worth fighting for.

    • Yikes says:

      +1. I’d never read anything about Tyler Perry before this but totally agree. If he’s hiding his sexuality, then that’s his business and he should come out or not come out at his own discretion.

  5. Claire says:

    I cannot forgive any adult that hurts a child. An adult who hurts a child is a failure as a human being. However, I have let go of my anger from my childhood to a large extent. I now see my parents as hurt, weak individuals who never made the choice to do better than their parents. Tyler Perry had it much worse than me. He is remarkable.

  6. Aims says:

    I can understand where he’s coming from. I had a horrible father. He was verbally and emotional abusive. Thankfully, mom divorced him, but we as kids still had to see him on visitation. There wasn’t any protection at all when we visited him and actually it got worse because his wife liked to join in on the abuse. As I got older and had a family of my own, I too had a to forgive him. The reason for that was because I refused to let my anger towards him keep me in bondage. He no longer was going to have any effect or rob me of my happiness. I wasn’t going to let him win. The last time I saw him was 22 years ago. He died 3 years ago and I felt relief. I have broken the cycle of pain and verbal abuse. I have a good marriage that is strong and loving and kind. My kids are good people who have never experienced anything that I had and there isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t tell each other that we love one another. So I won. I am living a good life full of laughter and love and he died alone and none of his children came to his funeral. And the legacy of abuse died with him.

  7. Tx_mom says:

    I heard a long-format interview with him a few years ago, I think with Terry Gross. It’s clear he holds no affection for his dad, but he pays for his dad’s care. He feels a financial bit not emotional obligation to him. Part of his forgiveness was understanding that his dad also had been terribly abused; he had been raised by a young teenager, who in turn was supervised by an elderly man who had been raised in slavery and had a strong leaning to physical punishment and beatings. It’ was just mind-blowing to hear the legacy of the brutality of slavery still living on through four generations.

    • kgeo says:

      Wow, that’s amazing. Thanks for sharing. I’m glad I got to read this. I was always a little indifferent to Tyler Perry, but I didn’t realize he did so much with so little.

    • VirgiliaCoriolanus says:

      Honestly, I feel like you can trace so much abuse in black families straight from slavery. Like the idea of always having your kids (toddlers!) under control in public, when the truth of the matter is, kids are kids and will have tantrums no matter how well you raise them…..black kids weren’t allowed to act up in public under slavery and Jim Crow. Total and immediate obedience was expected. Or the idea of always responding with “yes/no ma’am, sir”…..because what would happen to them was a lot worse than being beaten…if they were lucky. Emmett Till, etc. We are still being raised in the after-effects of slavery. My grandma was raised in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era, her great grandparents were born into slavery, and shit slavery didn’t end with the Civil War. My eldest aunt (who is barely 60) went to a segregated school–schools were desegregated just before my mom entered kindergarten.

      It definitely doesn’t excuse it, but you can see the differences in attitudes with what is expected from their kids. Total obedience has been passed down through the generations for a reason.

  8. JoJo says:

    I think it’s awesome that Tyler has discussed his sexual abuse, his troubled childhood, his rags to riches success story,etc. Maybe one day he will stop lying about his sexuality which is well known in Atlanta just say “no comment”.Especially since he makes it a point to include lying,pathetic DL black gay men cheating on black women in many of his films.

    “If you don’t live in your truth you will die in your lie.”

    • Frida_K says:

      Maybe by discussing his childhood in such depth he is taking his first steps towards more honesty in other areas of his life.

      Maybe he’s working through a lot of things before he can get there.

      I think that he needs compassion and patience. Also, maybe he doesn’t owe the public anything regarding his sexuality. Unless he’s out there actively campaigning for anti-gay causes, it’s nobody’w business who is in his bed.

    • MachineElf says:

      He likely suffers from CPTSD. It will take time to do the healing necessary to feel safe enough to reveal himself like that.

    • paranormalgirl says:

      He doesn’t owe anyone anything as far as publicly coming out. Why do people care?

  9. Meg says:

    I come from abusive people who still refuse to acknowledge any error on their part, it’s part of gaslighting for them. Forgiveness always seemed like the last thing I could do because it felt like they were getting away with what they’d done, but a scene in the movie Philomena really stood out for me. She lived with nuns as a pregnant teenager-they treated those unwed mother’s horribly, manipulated them to giving up their kids for adoption and lying about their kids when they later tried to get information on their lives. This nun wouldn’t acknowledge her let alone talk to her so she got in the nuns face and said ‘i forgive you’ the nun looked so pissed that she’d done something to be forgiven for. It clicked for me. That statement acknowledges wrongdoing that so many abusers deny and run away from.
    A lot of it is shock that people do these things in the first place. One parent spoils their kid can’t say no because they’re so in love with their baby. Another is annoyed frustrated at their kid constantly and act like they’re a burden. Not just when the parent is tired and stretched too thin, my mother did that to me constantly so I stopped going to her for anything because I was tired of being treated like a nuisance just for existing. She’d then get mad that I didn’t go to her because it made her look like a neglegent mother. She didn’t care about me but cared about what others thought of her.

  10. Marty says:

    I really wish prominent figures in the black community would stop upholding this narrative that all answers are found in prayer. Yes, prayer can be helpful. But mental health issues are serious, especially if you’ve experienced trauma. This way of thinking only perpetuates the negative stereotypes that keep the community from seeking the help they need.

    • Patty says:

      Thank you! And while I can admit that Tyler Perry is a great business man who creates content that some people like and enjoy; I will also say that he’s extremely problematic and still has serious issues with black women and men.

    • Sunnydaze says:

      Thank you for saying this. Thank you so much. While I appreciate the situation his mother was in I also think, wow – all you’re going through and you’re grateful your mother took you to church. Ok. I struggle with both understanding there are many reasons people don’t seek out or have access to help and at the same time, I cringe thinking of an abused child (by multiple people) being taken to church instead of somewhere effing safe (not temporary safe, long term safe). At what point do you sit back as a parent and resign yourself to horrific circumstances that are directly impacting your child because the main abuser is the provider? How long do you pray about it and give a child no other option than to rise above on faith? And even if he didn’t tell his mother what was going on….that person absolutely could have killed him. Couldn’t the church that you give tithings to help an abused woman and her child? Did no one at that church see him squirming in pain during service? See the bruises? So many people failed him, great he found some kind of whatever to get him through that time in his life but I really wish people would stop being grateful to a system that forced you to do it on your own while calling it faith.

  11. tealily says:

    I would like to take this opportunity to shout from the rooftops that Boo 2: A Madea Halloween is one of the best Halloween movies ever.

  12. Yikes says:

    Much love to you, Tyler. What a survivor. Good on you.

  13. JustBe says:

    Can you elaborate, please? I do not enjoy his movies (I haven’t watched his shows), mostly because of the simplistic plots and shallow characters, but also because the misogyny (‘loose’ women, women constantly needing to be protected/saved by a benevolent man, one-dimensional women). Too many of his characters are caricatures of black stereotypes with one ‘normal’ or successful character showing the others the ‘right’ way to be. There seems like there is a deeper story to the lack of depth in these characters. Given that he has had such traumatic experiences, I wonder why more depth hasn’t shown up in his writings.