Tyler Perry Has a White Audience Problem He’d Like to Solve



Tyler Perry is faced with a dilemma: the actor and director is still struggling to get white audiences to see his movies.

More specifically, he tells The Wrap in an interview published yesterday, “I still have issues getting screens in white neighborhoods believe it or not,” arguing that he believes Lionsgate (distributor of most of his past movies, including the most recent, “Boo! A Madea Halloween,” which opened last weekend), could make more of an effort to distribute his films even wider than the typical 1500 to 2500 screens.

“I think the numbers could have been bigger had people who are in the white suburbs had the option to go to their own theaters to see it. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for many, many years,” Perry said, comparing the reach of “Boo! A Madea Halloween” to that of competitor, Paramount’s “Jack Reacher” sequel (starring Tom Cruise) which also opened last weekend on 1500 more screens, but still earned less than “Boo!”, which opened on 2,260 screens nationwide.

Indeed “Boo!” did prove to have some crossover appeal, according to Lionsgate’s own exit polling, which showed that 60%  of “Boo!” audiences on opening weekend were black and the other 40% comprised of a mix of everything else, implying that while black audiences still make up the majority of Perry’s fans, there’s been a shift, as past “Madea” films drew audiences that were made up of around 80 to 90% black ticket buyers, also according to Lionsgate. So “Boo!” clearly attracted a more diverse audience, compared to past “Madea” movies. Might it signal the beginning of a trend for “Madea,” or might it be its Halloween focus that intrigued and drew typically non-Tyler Perry fans?

While Lionsgate stands by its release strategy for Perry’s films, telling The Wrap in the same piece that the opening for “Boo!” is in line with the releases of other movies in similar genres, I assume that the broad appeal of the film, based on their polling, compared to previous Tyler Perry movies, may encourage them to release his future work (assuming they’re still the distributor) in more theaters nationwide.

Still, 2,260 screens is certainly nothing to dismiss. That’s a strong number; and even though Perry would like to see his films open in very specifically “white suburbs,” they aren’t only playing in exclusively black neighborhoods. In fact, here in NYC, “Boo!” is screening at multiplexes all over the city, in heavily-trafficked (non-race-specific) and touristy areas, like AMC Time Square and Regal Cinemas, across the street, as well as Union Square, 34th Street, and “mostly white” areas of Manhattan like theaters on the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side. It’s also screening at a theater in Astoria, Queens, which, according to the census, has a black population of only 4.5%, with whites and Asians making up the bulk of the locale’s residents.

So, in NYC at least, there’s certainly an effort to get the film in front of all audiences, not just black audiences. I live in NYC, and can’t speak for other parts of the country, but any “black film” opening on over 2,200 screens very likely isn’t screening exclusively in black neighborhoods.

Lionsgate has done well being in the Tyler Perry business, as he’s charted his own strategy from the start, with relatively small budgets (typically $10 to $20 million), and domestic grosses of around $57 million on average. And I’m sure the studio would love to make even more money from Perry’s work, so if there is an appetite beyond his base that isn’t being tapped into, why not exploit it?

He has, in effect, reached out to white audiences in the past, via casting, as was the case in “Tyler Perry’s The Family that Preys,” which had a mixed cast, starring Kathy Bates, along with Alfre Woodard, but which under-performed at the box office, earning just $37 million, about $20 million below his average.

Much more recently, his newest TV series, “Too Close to Home,” which airs on TLC (its first-ever scripted series), has an all-white cast, which Perry found himself on the receiving end of criticism for. Speaking with the Tom Joyner Morning Show a couple of months ago, before the series premiered, Perry said: “I’m so sick of folks asking me why I have a show full of white folks. Nobody asked Norman Lear why he wrote for black people all those years. People are people. I’m writing a story about a girl that comes from a trailer park and whose family has a lot of dysfunction. That can happen whether your’re black or white.”

That’s correct. But one can’t ignore the fact that he’s been wanting to attract white audiences to his work, and creating a series with an all-white cast on a non-race-specific network, may have been a bid to do so on the small screen. And thus far, the series appears to be performing well for TLC.

Launched in partnership with OWN, the drama series reached 4.2 million viewers in its premiere airings across TLC and OWN. The August 22 premiere propelled TLC to its highest-rated Monday in more than a year in all key women demos. It’s done well enough that the network didn’t waste much time renewing it for a second season.

But the show’s success shouldn’t be a surprise. It would be tempting to immediately say that Perry should make *better* movies and TV shows if he wants to attract a wider (read: non-black) audience, but a Tyler Perry-styled film or TV series with an all-white cast can sell just as well as one with an all-black cast. Audience tastes vary, regardless of racial or ethnic group. After all, stories that tackle moral questions, no matter how simplistically or heavy-handedly directed, and the belief in family and religion to help steer a course through life’s challenges (Perry’s wheelhouse) are universal.

However, his films and TV shows with predominantly black leads will likely continue to draw mostly black audiences – inline with how well other films and TV series centered around the lives of black characters perform with non-black audiences, on average.

All that said, if Lionsgate is indeed leaving money on the table when it comes to their strategy in releasing Tyler Perry movies, his concerns should definitely be expressed, and Lionsgate should reconsider.

There is still the question of whether Perry’s movies can consistently appeal to non-black audiences, who’ve proved to be loyal supporters of his work, or if, as I suggested earlier, the Halloween focus in “Boo!” which drew 40% non-black audiences (stronger than the 10 to 20% Perry’s “Madea” movies typically draw) may make it a one-off success. Even I, as someone who’s avoided “Madea” movies (I’ve never been able to sit through one entirely), expressed some interest in seeing “Boo!” after the first trailer dropped, mostly for that reason – its Halloween theme. I was actually curious to see how Perry would shape a Madea-centered horror tale. Although I still haven’t seen “Boo!” and, quite frankly, I’m not in any rush. But the point is that I was curious enough – more-so than I have been prior to the releases of every past “Madea” movie – and others who felt the same, in search of an outrageous horror comedy to see, took one step further and actually bought tickets. Will that same curiosity and enthusiasm (especially among the 40% non-blacks who saw “Boo!”) carry forward to what will surely be more “Madea” movies? Time will tell.



  1. Tyler is a beast. I don’t like his movies, but he’s one of the smartest black business men in hollywood. Kudos to the brotha

    • As long as he wears a dress and wig, he can sell anything.

      Mrs Doubtfire, Big Momma’s House and Tootsie were men in drag with the viewer being fully aware that they were playing dress up for a purpose. I don’t know what this. Oh, wait, the emasculation of the black man!

  2. What really bothers me or gets me to thinking. As far as the theater is concerned the Caucasian writers and directors do not cater to African Americans. Tyler Perry tapped into an audience which is us (Black People) and it’s making him a fortune. There is great jealously amoung white directors and movie makers, that no one thought of it or cared to have the inside views to the African Americans lifestyle. To put it into film And profit from it.

    • Could you imagine what would happen if a white director repeatedly put a black man in a dress like this and asked him to play a woman in prequels and sequels?

      Nobody is jealous baby. They are still making the money off of this buffoonery without having to take the heat for it. Make it stop!

  3. I think that Tyler Perry is one great man and the world is better with him in it. Not because he is black but because of who he is and what he stands for. If it was not for some of his movies, I would not be the woman who can stand up against an abuser like I did. So thank you Tyler Perry

    • I have to ask you had to wait until you saw one of his movies to figure that out?

      • Motivation comes in many forms to move forward or overcome an adversity, here are several ways, group therapy, single therapy, minister, priest, intervention, friend, family, reading a story, hearing a story, life changing event and the entertainment media. Hers just happen to be Tyler Perry’s movies. ?

  4. Messengers are sent to give a message from God. We are not here for comfortability. So, though we walk through the valley of death we shall not fear evil. That is what BOO is all about. Stay focused and be Blessed…

    • That’s what boo is about. Some six foot five fool who whines with a high pitch voice and nails every steteotype out there. Oh jesus lords help us mercy.

  5. Tyler Perry well he is a man of great proportions he makes good movies that makes sense he is profound and inspirational Movie Maker film director and Creator thank you for Tyler Perry.

  6. Why does Tyler Perry care to reach white audiences? Non-Black filmmakers don’t care to reach non-Black audiences at all.

    • Exactly? Why do so many black people still feel that they need white approval to believe what they do is worthwhile? Getting acceptance from black people is not good enough?

    • I’m baffled by this limited thinking. A true storyteller wants as many people as possible to experience their stories. Why does a black filmmaker only have to appeal to other blacks? Does Spielberg only appeal to or make movies only for Jews? Does Scorsese only make movies for Italian-Americans? I abhor Perry’s work but I admire his business sense. There’s no logical or monetary reason why his films shouldn’t be playing in as many theaters as possible. I think it’s important that white audiences see black lives in their variety and if Perry’s movies can help with that cause, more power to him. And no, non-black filmmakers do not consciously ignore black audiences. Instead they make a movie with a particular, universal theme and expect black people to relate to it which is exactly what happens. The problem with some non-black filmmakers like Woody Allen and Tim Burton is that though their stories deal with universal themes, their choice of actors is not universal. Maybe we as a people need to stop limiting our thinking if we want to move forward.

    • This isn’t about caring what white people think. It’s about making as much money as possible, and having a brand that’s as wide reaching as possible. Perry is a business man. The more tickets his films sell the more profit he makes and the more money he has to create whatever the hell he wants. He’s probably peaked his black audience. So unless he starts making other kinds of movies that appeal to a broader black audience, he’s going to try to make sure that the weak-ass movies he makes reach as many folks as possible. It’s simple mathematics people.

      • Preach! The only color Tyler sees is green! I have always said that Tyler is not a filmmaker but a business man who makes films! The bottomline for Tyler is the almighty dollar!
        If Lionsgate decides to opens Tyler’s films wider than the usual, his films has got to make money because Lionsgate is also in the business of making money!
        A huge problem for Tyler is that people usually don’t go and see his films two or more times, it’s once and they are done! His films doesn’t linger around for very long in the theaters. It probably makes most if not all of its money in two weeks! This is usually inline with what Tyler puts into his films! His films are usually written, shot and distributed in 3 months or less! The saying “You get what you paid for” really applies to both Tyler and his films!

  7. I guess at some point you would love to reach certain audience. I can’t blame him for trying. I went to see Boo, and I thought the movie was okay. It had some funny moments but it is what it is. Now I’m a black man born and raised in Chicago and now I live in Paducah, Kentucky. When I saw Boo, the theater was filed with White people. Now I think the problem isn’t him reaching, I think the problem is the studios behind him. I think they tell him to just reach his audience. Cause with all the success he’s had and he still get limited amount of screens showing his films. It’s the studio

  8. Tyler Perry, Keep doing these great movie.I really enjoy a good laugh from time to time. When am going thru a rough time on my job or at home. I sit back and pop in one of your movies to help make my day better .Thank 4 the lol.

  9. I don’t watch any movie that he makes but he’s got his audience faithful and that truly is the whole point. Dude don’t go after White audiences, if any thing show them the back of your Ass. In speaking for Black films period White folk don’t think , create or film or go see anything that has to do with Black skin.

  10. I haven’t seen it yet and I can’t wait to. In the meantime Mr.Perry continue with the gift God gave you. Your play’s and movies are about everyday life what some of us go through. What should matter is your making $$$$$ and your gift and intelligence is brilliant.

  11. To me it’s not about just Black or White, it’s about an artist wanting the broadest audience possible to enjoy for his work. If you have a message, especially one that appeals to universal themes, you know, a human being, why should only Black people see your film if you’re Black or only White people if you’re White. Sometimes, we get so bogged down with ethnic notions, we forget that art is for everyone’s entertainment. Tyler is doing what any artist worth his salt does – evolve and grow. Isn’t that what the religious/spiritual crowd is always talking about – enlarging their territory, inhabiting the land God has for them (not for you, but for them), mounting up with wings like eagles? The last time I checked, eagles flew wherever their wings could take them, not just their own neighborhood.

  12. Perry said: “I’m so sick of folks asking me why I have a show full of white folks. Nobody asked Norman Lear why he wrote for black people all those years. People are people. I’m writing a story about a girl that comes from a trailer park and whose family has a lot of dysfunction. That can happen whether your’re black or white.”

    Something both Perry and I agree on. I caught hell from wanna-be agents (almost everyone of them white) for my first novel “Turkeystuffer” (Simon and Schuster) because the protagonist was white…no one said anything to James Patterson for his Alex Cross character (except maybe ‘great story’). I finally had to skip an agent altogether and take my novel directly to Simon and Schuster. They loved it and published it. End of story…

  13. Tyler Perry complaining to LionsGate about why his films are not playing in the White suburbs is like the Black house servant asking his White master,” What’s the matter Boss, we sick?”

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