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‘Maxine’s Baby’ Directors On Tyler Perry’s Upbringing, Mother’s Influence

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Terry Perry has achieved success in the Entertainment industry on a scale almost beyond comparison: he’s the creative force behind two dozen films, 20 plays, two bestselling books and well over a dozen television series. Tyler Perry Studios, the huge production complex he built in Atlanta, is home to 12 custom sound stages. 

What’s even more astounding is all he had to overcome to accomplish those feats – growing up poor in New Orleans and enduring physical and mental abuse at the hands of his father. His extraordinary journey is told in Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story, the film from Prime Video directed by Gelila Bekele (Perry’s former life partner and mother of his child) and Armani Ortiz.

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“We weren’t interested in making a film about Tyler Perry, the Celebrity … but really how did he survive [his upbringing]?” Bekele explained during an appearance at Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted event. “I think a lot of people know his story about him being homeless and self-made and then fast forward to where he is now, but we really wanted to cover the beginning as precise as possible and also that middle — that gray area of what makes someone a singular individual in achieving greatness and coming from the background he comes from and sort of the trauma and also forgiveness, what that looks like in practice.”

During the making of the documentary, the directors asked Perry how he defined himself – whether as a writer, producer or director. His response? “I’m Maxine’s baby,” he said, referring to his late mom. “I am my mother’s son.”

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Bekele and Ortiz were able to incorporate rare footage of Maxine Perry to help illustrate the bond that sustained mother and son through very difficult times.

“When we found that footage of Maxine, we had that epiphany moment where it’s like, wow, this is the heart and soul of his story. This is the heart and soul of Tyler Perry,” Ortiz said. “And to hear her voice and to see her iNFLuence in his life throughout not only the course of his work, but what he’s been able to build here in Atlanta, it’s just breathtaking.”

Perry comes from a long line of preachers on his mother’s side. The film explores how his Christian faith informs his work and life.

“Tyler’s been so open about his faith and his belief, and also it’s another source that connects him with his fan base so deeply. He’s born into it. This is not something he just all of a sudden started practicing,” Bekele said. “But it’s also a segue and introduction [to] Maxine. She’s the one who said, listen, I don’t have much to give you, but I can introduce you to what I believe in, and if you connect to it, then this is something you can sort of use as a survival guide. And that’s been the beacon of hope for him.”

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The documentary doesn’t shy away from assessing Perry’s body of work, which has drawn criticism from Spike Lee and others for its comedic depiction of African American life.

“We want to be able to tell the full story of Tyler, not just do a fluff piece where it’s like, ‘Hey, we want to show him in this great light’ because that doesn’t make him human,” Ortiz observed. “What are the reactions, what are the criticisms [of his work]? Is there validity in those criticisms, but also is there validity in what he’s making? And, ultimately, we want to give it to the audience and say, ‘Hey, this is not for us to tell you how to feel. This is for us to present to you a full and complete story that is transparent with everything.’ ”

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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