Tyler Perry has directed his first screenplay, 27 years after writing it.
“A Jazzman’s Blues,” which is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, was Perry’s first stab at screenwriting long before Madea made him a media mogul, back when he was pouring what little money he had into less successful Atlanta stage shows.
After directing numerous films, dozens of TV episodes and expanding his 330-acre Tyler Perry Studios empire in Atlanta, Perry has returned to that old script, without hardly changing a word, for his first film for Netflix. (“A Jazzman’s Blues” begins streaming Sept. 23.)
“The timing seemed to be right,” Perry said in an interview ahead of the film’s premiere Sunday.
Set in mid-century Georgia, the movie stars Joshua Boon as Bayou, a juke joint sensation who, before leaving to make it big in Chicago, falls in love with Leanne (Solea Pfieffer). Years later, she returns to their hometown married and passing for white. It’s a romance sketched against the backdrop of the segregated South and the era’s flourishing music scene, with songs by Terence Blanchard and choreography by Debbie Allen.
AP: Georgia has been at the center of some of the battles over voting rights, abortion rights and school curriculum. How do you feel about having your studio there?
PERRY: I have two views to that. One is: Being on the very ground and home of Dr. Martin Luther King and seeing their fight, seeing the vigor that it took to get things done. There’s a richness there that I thrive on, that I plug into, that I appreciate. On the other side, we’re dealing with all this gerrymandering, voting-rights issues, abortion issues. All these moments are happening but I have to focus on the fighters so that I’m able to function in a state that I love.
AP: Some in Hollywood have previously called for boycotting productions in Georgia. Last year, the Will Smith film “Emancipation” withdrew from shooting in the state. What do you think about those kind of measures?
PERRY: Some of them I think are extreme. We have this cancel culture now that if someone does something you don’t like or says something you don’t like, they’re canceled. If the state makes a law you don’t like, you don’t go there. The reason I take issue with all of it is every four years there’s an election, or every two years with the midterms. We get an opportunity to try to change it. So I think drastic, immediate shutdowns can be harmful to people who work here. At this moment, I have over $400 million in the ground at Tyler Perry Studios. And there are many people who come to work there who would have never gotten a chance to be in this business. I know Hollywood is really big on diversity now. Well, you don’t get more diverse than Tyler Perry Studios. If you’re trying to boycott the state, you’re boycotting those people, too.
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