For Tyler Perry, now is the time for dreaming. Nearly 30 years in the making, the multi-hyphenate talent presented clips from his forthcoming sweeping epic, A Jazzman’s Blues, at the 20th annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival on Aug. 6.
Told over 50 years from 1937 to 1987, the romantic drama follows the forbidden romance between lovers Bayou (Joshua Boone) and Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer).
Filmed with cinematography by Brett Pawlak, the film unravels five decades of secrets and lies entwined with a juke joint blues soundtrack. The film also stars Amirah Vann, Austin Scott, Milauna Jemai Jackson, Brent Antonello, Brad Benedict, Kario Marcel, Lana Young, and Ryan Eggold. Songs for the film were arranged and produced by multi-Grammy winner and two-time Academy Award nominee Terence Blanchard with music by Aaron Zigman. The choreography was done by the legendary Debbie Allen.
Ahead of The Color of Conversations at MVAAFF, Shadow and Act exclusively spoke with Perry about A Jazzman's Blues, why it took nearly 30 years to make the film, and how his career will shift and expand going forward.
A Jazzman’s Blues was the first screenplay that Perry ever wrote. He penned the script in the ’90s, and though it was bought in 2006, the project never came together until now. “The landscape never agreed to it,” he said. “I wrote it in 1995 and waited for the right time to do it. I never figured out when was the right time because I was building the brand and doing the things that I knew my audience wanted. My focus was always making sure we had a hit. Because, as a Black person, it could change your whole career if you have a flop. But watching what’s happening now, many people in politics want to rewrite Black people’s history, marginalize it, change it, and water it down. I thought, ‘Here’s the time to tell the story.'”
Initially, Perry had hoped to star as Bayou, but he aged out of the role.
However, when it came time for him to cast the project, he knew he wanted to share his platform with newcomers. “If you look at my whole career with the people that I work with, it’s always been people that a lot of people didn’t know at the time but have gone on to become pretty big stars,” he explained. “Huge stars. Viola Davis. Idris [Elba], Sofia Vergara, I could go on and on about the names, but having these two people in The Jazzman’s Blues that people have not seen yet, I think it allows you to tell the story and not have to get past the hugeness of it after it’s done.”
Since the film has been his passion project for years, it was imperative for Perry that he partner with a studio that would allow his vision to come to light exactly as he conceived it.
“I’ve been very fortunate in how I’ve made films,” he said. “It’s always been bringing it to viewers the way I see it, so working with Netflix has been really good because they understand me. I haven’t an issue where they’re restraining this, wouldn’t do it, or wouldn’t do that. A Jazzman’s Blues is the same story; it has never changed from 1995 to now.”
A Jazzman’s Blues will have its global premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It will debut on Netflix on Sept. 23.