Tyler Perry accepted the TV Academy’s Governor’s Award with a heartfelt speech centering on a quilt his grandmother gave him when he was 19.
When he first saw the quilt, with its multi-colored patches and patterns, he recalled, “it was something that I didn’t really care for, and I was quite embarrassed by it.” He would use it for household chores, even as a rag when he changed the oil in his car. Later, when he noticed a similar quilt in an antique shop, he learned about its origins and had an epiphany about his grandmother’s gift.
“It was made by an African-American woman who was a former slave,” a salesperson in the antique shop told him. “Each patch in the quilt she put in represented a different part of her life. One part was from a dress that she was wearing when she found out that she was free. Another part was from her wedding dress.”
Even though he considered himself proud of his heritage, Perry said he realized he “dismissed her work and her story because it didn’t look like what I thought it should.”
Expanding the metaphor, he said, “Whether we know it or not, we’re all sewing our own quilts with our behaviors, our experiences and our memories.”
Since leaving home as a teenager, of course, Perry has risen to the elite ranks of entertainment influencers, spanning many parts of the industry. Initially, he made his way as a writer and performer. From his Madea plays, which spawned a $500 million film franchise, he went on to make a series of much bigger business moves. He created a 300-acre production facility in Atlanta, partnered with Oprah Winfrey’s cable network OWN on a slate of scripted shows and eventually moved his deal to Viacom and became a stakeholder in subscription streaming outlet BET+.
In his speech, Perry described a moment when he was 10, when his mother urged him not to wait around for a white person to do anything for him. “Understand, my mother wasn’t a racist,” he said. “But in her quilt she couldn’t imagine a world when her son wasn’t waiting by the door for someone. In her quilt, she couldn’t imagine me building my own door and holding that door open for thousands of people.”
Emphasizing the many different walks of life participating in opportunities, he said everyone is coming together to “add patches to a quilt that is as diverse as it can be. Diversity at its best.”
Perry said in his grandmother’s quilt, “there are no patches with black people on television on it. But in my quilt, her grandson is being celebrated by the Television Academy.”
Winfrey and Chris Rock both took part in a taped introduction for Perry, who accepted standing at a microphone-equipped set that looked more like a conventional awards show than the rest of the night’s speech settings. “He dreamed the impossible dream,” Winfrey said. “He did it all by himself,” Rock added, noting Perry’s arrival as the ultimate Hollywood outsider. “He’s both talented and crazy.”
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