In keeping with this site's insatiable need to know, our ongoing questions about Tyler Perry — that Emperor of All Black Media who's most handsomely paid to wear a dress — got the best of us today as his new film The Family That Preys opens in theaters. Far more than our previous subjects of Defamer Answers, Perry is a man whose mythology is both cultivated and oddly removed from his fame; having earned a combined $250 million in less than four years, his audience does his speaking for him. Is he gay? It doesn't matter; TBS just bought 100 episodes of House of Payne. Why do critics hate him? It doesn't matter; Madea's Family Reunion opened at number one. Well, enough — it matters to us. Follow the jump and learn along with us as we figure out who the hell this guy is who needs 300 people to run his operation and has Oprah admittedly reaching for her Excedrin.I. KNOW YOUR TYLER Emmitt R. Perry Jr. was born Sept. 14, 1969, to Maxine and Emmitt Perry Sr. He later adopted the name Tyler to distance himself from his father, who he's claimed abused him verbally and physically while growing up in New Orleans. He dropped out of school at 16 and but later acquired his GED, eventually heading off to Atlanta in 1992 — right around the time he followed an Oprah Winfrey Show guest's advice to hash out one's emotional turmoil on paper. Perry produced his first play, the forgiveness-themed musical I Know I've Been Changed, in 1998 with $12,000 saved from selling used cars, construction work and other odd jobs. He drew 30 people to a 1,200-seat theater on opening night and, according to USA Today, was homeless within a week. After a more assiduous grassroots push, he staged it again later that year at Atlanta's House of Blues, where it was a hit. Perry and the show traveled from there, with another nine plays following before the touring shows ended in 2006. He and his father reconciled (Perry reportedly brings Emmitt Sr. onstage at some shows); he continues to maintain homes in Atlanta and Los Angeles. II. KNOW HIS CANON Essentially, Tyler Perry is the John Hughes of what's still known as the "chitlin' circuit": A moody, funny, staggeringly prolific writer/producer/director best known for rocking floral prints and an Adam's apple as no-nonsense grandmother Mabel "Madea" Simmons. It's minstrelsy and it's melodrama — dinner table close-ups of fried chicken and sweet potatoes, drawn-out taxonomies of hos — yet ironically postmodern and not entirely unfunny: He also does the upstanding black male (lawyers, husbands, etc.) and Madea's ornery brother Joe, occasionally in the same scene and with a kind of modulated conviction that makes us wonder why he's not in more of other people's films (J.J. Abrams apparently thought the same thing, casting Perry as the Starfleet Academy Chief in his upcoming reboot of Star Trek). Perry's world is one where moments of heart-rending candor end in earnest confessions like, "I love you... I got it so bad for you I go to the grocery store and buy you feminine products, I swear." Or where, in Meet the Browns, a romantic rib-joint rendezvous between Angela Bassett and Rick Fox is broken up when her friend races in to say her otherwise heroic teenage son was gunned down in a drug deal. (One guess as to whether or not he survives.) Still, as high moral dudgeon goes, the last 40 minutes of Diary of a Mad Black Woman are half Bergman and half church revival. Indignance is just, as long as it's just temporary. If Perry takes any shortcuts, it's in the reconstitution of most of his plays as films — plays he's also distributed as "recorded live" DVD's since 2002. His original screenplays, including last year's Daddy's Little Girls and The Family That Preys (opening today), push similar themes of spirituality, responsibility, forgiveness and family through the prism of urban melodrama. And all of it — along with his TBS hit House of Payne and his bestselling Madea tome Never Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings — is some of the most consistently profitable work being produced today. We'll get to that. III. KNOW HIS ACCOLADES Perry won two BET Comedy Awards out of the gate for Diary of a Mad Black Woman and has since been a near-perennial annual NAACP Image Award, Black Movie Award, and Black Reel Award nominee. Yet he loathes the 'Mainstream,' a reviled crossbreed of critics and journalists who have long sniffed at the quality and reach of his work. "I don't read stuff about me Good or Bad because most of the time it's wrong and negative and because most of these 'Mainstream' folks don't get it," Perry wrote April 22 on his Web site's message board. "So, what's the point?" And that was in response to positive piece. To this day, despite all the forgiveness his characters encourage and broker among each other, he forbids advance screenings of his films for the press. IV. KNOW HIS STYLE Unremarkable mall-chic, the kind of thing that happens when the personal shopper you hired on Craigslist gets loose with $2,000 at Rochester Big & Tall.
V. KNOW HIS LOVE LIFE Any discussion of Perry's personal life that doesn't begin with his rumored homosexuality probably started instead asking why he's not married. Here's the official answer: So now: Is he gay? Again, it's all a 'Mainstream' plot he dodges, even to black-oriented magazines like Essence:
[Tyler Perry] acknowledges first, that climbing into a dress and wig and packing his face full of Maybelline could very well lead people to question for which side he's hitting. "It used to bother me a whole lot in the beginning, it really, really did," says Perry. "But what it's done is give me firm seating in my manhood. And if some people can't separate the character from the man that I am, then that's their issue, not mine."
He also told the same magazine that he plays Madea because of his "special perspective": “Men watch women all the time. We sleep with you, we love you, we talk to you, we watch you shower.” Ah. Thus far, the most likely subject of Perry's shower study is Gelila Bekele, a 23-year-old Ethiopian model who has joined him on red carpets and gossip blogs for over a year. Her MySpace page mentions a releationship but no Perry. But what of the chaste heros and well-built men who frequently appear in his plays, often revealing ripped physiques under workaday attire? And what of his spirtual, exquisite good guys — Heaven's well-coiffed exports who show up by chance and who, when "we both wanted to make love ... chose to give me something better: He gave me intimacy." Think of them as deeply decent, doable closet cases intoxicated by their prospects for middle-class bodice-ripping. So you tell us (if you haven't already). VI. KNOW HIS EMPIRE In the end, we don't care who Perry sleeps with, because a guy who builds a multi-media fiefdom within 10 years of sleeping in his Hyundai probably isn't doing a lot of fucking anyway. It goes like this: The plays take off, making $77 million to date. Perry brands them Tyler Perry's Whatever, tapes the shows, puts them on DVD. Lionsgate buys in, hires a director to adapt Diary of a Mad Black Woman for $5 million. It makes $50 million. Gives another $5 million for Madea's Family Reunion, this time with Perry directing. It makes $63 million. Rinse, repeat with four more titles in 30 months. Total gross: $250 million theatrically, plus 11 million DVD's sold. The best part? Perry owns it all. Hence the 28-acre, 300-employee Tyler Perry Studios outside Atlanta. The $200 million, 100-episode House of Payne deal with TBS. The recent three-picture reupping with his distributors at Lionsgate. The 16,000-square-foot home with the tennis court and the prayer garden. And complete, self-financed control over whatever he wants to produce. You will not see Tyler Perry waiting around for three months to close an equity deal with a Mumbai conglomerate. VII. KNOW YOUR FUN FACTS · Perry's next film, Madea Goes to Jail will feature Cosby kid Keshia Knight Pulliam as a prostitute. · After seeing Jail performed live, Oprah Winfrey announced on her show, "I laughed so hard I had to go home and take Excedrin." · Stands 6'6" tall. · His fans have their own dedicated social networking site. · Was chosen in 2007 as one of EW's smartest people in Hollywood and one of Time most influential people in the world. · His stage adaptation of Rev. T.D. Jakes's book Woman Thou Art Loosed grossed $5 million in five months.