- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

Tyler Perry has plenty in common with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the embattled former senior pastor at Sen. Barack Obama’s Chicago church.

Both Mr. Perry and Mr. Wright firmly believe in a higher power. Both preach a sermon of self-reliance for the black community — Mr. Perry primarily via his plays, movies and TBS sitcom “House of Payne,” which routinely feature church-going protagonists who pray that their current struggles can be resolved through the Lord’s will.

Both men also enjoy a large congregation, although Mr. Perry’s flock greatly outnumbers the Chicago-based holy man’s followers, if ticket sales are any measure.

They differ sharply in one key respect, however. Mr. Perry’s films don’t point fingers at white racism or the U.S. government for the plight of poorer blacks.

As for Mr. Wright, let’s just say his index finger might be hyperextended from all the pulpit pointing he has done.

Mr. Wright, the just-retired senior pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, infamously cried “God … America” in a YouTubed video segment culled from one of his sermons. He also said the U.S. government lied about creating the HIV virus to commit genocide against people of color and compares the U.S. to al Qaeda for nuclear bombing two Japanese cities during World War II.

In comparison, every time Mr. Perry steps behind the camera, he sends out another love letter to his homeland.

Orlando Sentinel film critic Roger Moore says of Mr. Perry, “He always leaves the race card off the table, with a nearly equal share of black and white villains and sympathetic figures.”

“Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns,” the writer-director’s latest hit, follows a single mother named Brenda (Angela Bassett) who has every reason to blame someone, anyone, for her predicament. She lives paycheck to paycheck to support her three children — each from a different unsupportive daddy — and isn’t sure what to do when she loses her job. She’s broke, but her faith remains rock solid. Her prayers are answered as her extended family and a new love interest enter her life.

In Mr. Perry’s last film, 2007’s multicharacter drama “Why Did I Get Married?” Angela (Tasha Smith) shakes off her rejection by corporate America and starts her own successful company from scratch. It’s a throwaway plotline, one among many in Mr. Perry’s overstuffed feature, but hardly an insignificant one. It’s the Tyler Perry story, writ small.

It’s a cliche, but it’s so gobsmackingly accurate it bears repeating. Mr. Perry embodies the American dream in his lanky, 6-foot-6-inch frame. Hard work. Innovation. Smarts. Patience. Payoff.

Mr. Perry’s movies routinely bring in big bucks. “Meet the Browns” earned $20 million last weekend.

So who really represents more black Americans in 2008? As tales of the till go, this one’s no contest.

Check out what’s in the collection plate at the Church of Perry — $500 million so far and counting, according to Best Life magazine. That’s the total kitty for Mr. Perry’s films, books, plays and television series.

Mr. Wright’s former church has about 8,000 members, not including whatever new members will be inspired from his national headlines. He’d be hard pressed to top Mr. Perry’s take — or fan base.

Mr. Wright, 66, lived through a time of profound racial injustice that clearly affected his worldview, as Mr. Obama argued in his recent “More Perfect Union” speech. At 38, Mr. Perry is nearly three decades younger than Mr. Wright, but he isn’t oblivious to the discrimination blacks faced throughout the last century.

The younger man speaks often about the “chitlin circuit,” where black performers who weren’t allowed to perform at many white venues eked out a living. He toured the modern-day version of that circuit, the urban theaters across the United States where he laid the foundation of his current multimedia success with the series of morality plays featuring Madea, the feisty matriarch who has become Mr. Perry’s signature character.

The media mogul still has cause to harbor resentment toward America, his sizable bank account notwithstanding. It has taken a while for Hollywood to appreciate his box-office clout. The industry scoffed when his first film, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” scored big at the box office, and even the small fortune made by his follow-up, “Madea’s Family Reunion,” failed to convince the industry he was a major player.

He says he still can walk onto a movie set and enjoy a semblance of anonymity.

One can imagine Madea taking Mr. Wright to task for his inflammatory ser mons and then, once he has been properly chastised, wrapping him up in her gargantuan bosom to embrace him, warts and all.

That’s a scene audiences of all colors and creeds would cheer.

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