27 years after creating his first screenplay, Tyler Perry has finally put it into motion.
Perry’s debut screenplay, “A Jazzman’s Blues,” which has its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, was written long before Madea made him a media tycoon and when he was investing what little money he had on less lucrative Atlanta theatre productions.
After directing numerous movies, numerous TV shows, and expanding his 330-acre Tyler Perry Studios empire in Atlanta, Perry has gone back to that old script for his first Netflix production, barely changing a word. On September 23, “A Jazzman’s Blues” will start streaming.
Prior to the movie’s Sunday premiere, Perry stated in an interview that “the timing appeared to be appropriate.”
The film, which is set in mid-century Georgia, stars Joshua Boon as Bayou, a juke joint sensation who falls in love with Leanne before departing to become famous in Chicago (Solea Pfieffer). She returns to their village years later, now married and posing as white. With music by Terence Blanchard and choreography by Debbie Allen, it is a romance that is shown against the backdrop of the segregated South and the thriving music industry of the time.
I was extremely underprivileged and battling. It was a very trying moment. I had the opportunity to witness a play by August Wilson. I would have to sneak it at intermission and get in when folks were out for a smoke, if I’m not mistaken, it was “Seven Guitars.” I was unable to buy a ticket. I met him at an after-party that was taking place at a small cafe. I explained to him the types of programmes I was producing and how there was still so more I wanted to do. He exhorted me to do anything I wanted and not be ashamed of what I was doing. When I got home and began writing, “Jazzman” appeared.
AP: From where did you get that story?
PERRY: My family is from rural Louisiana, and I was raised in New Orleans. I spent the summers there with my granny. I was thus well-versed in this world. I used to hear all different kinds of music when I was a little child working on Bourbon Street. All this music was playing in my head as I typed. I wasn’t attempting to write a historical novel set in the South about a passing person. I recall seeing a photo of my grandma and great grandmother a few years ago, and they appeared to be white women. My grandfather was obviously a Black man, and my grandma married him. According to my aunt, and I’m verifying this now, there are members of my family who
Was that a topic your family members discussed?
No, Perry. It’s the most bizarre remnant of the generations that came before me. With my Jewish acquaintances who have grandparents who survived the Holocaust, I find this to be true. Simply said, it’s not brought up. It is not discussed. I believe it’s a terrible disservice to the future generations and those who stand to gain from the horrors our relatives experienced. If you don’t know the specifics of what transpired and how it occurred, I believe you are failing your family.
AP: This might be your most ambitious film yet. Did you feel you had to build up to it?
PERRY: Without a doubt. My first movie, “Diary of a Mad Woman,” I didn’t direct because I didn’t know how. To truly comprehend filmmaking, all of these movies and television shows were necessary. When I was working on “Gone Girl,” I really started to understand it and get it, and I truly appreciate David Fincher and (Ben) Affleck for that. For me, the camera had always had the only purpose of documenting the event. I didn’t fully comprehend everything that the camera could capture.
AP: So why tackle it now?
PERRY: I’ve used caution. I had to make sure I provided my audience and niche with excellent service. To be able to get here, I needed their victories. Everything was a part of the strategy. It only came up now because I’ve seen so many politicians and influential individuals try to minimise and delegitimize the experience of Black people in America. Because of this attack on history, I believe it is essential to us as storytellers to highlight those true tales.
AP: Georgia has been the scene of some of the conflicts around school curricula, abortion rights, and voting rights. What are your thoughts on having a studio there?
I have two perspectives on that, Perry. One is being in Dr. Martin Luther King’s actual home and neighbourhood and witnessing their struggle and the ferocity with which things were accomplished. There is a richness there that I enjoy, thrive on, and plug into. On the other side, we have gerrymandering, voting rights, and abortion issues to contend with. All these events are taking place, but for me to continue functioning in the way I enjoy, I must keep my attention on the fighters.
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?
Some of them, in my opinion, are severe. Nowadays, there is a cancel culture where if someone says or does something you don’t like, you cancel them. You stay away from the state if it passes a law you disagree with. I disagree with everything since there are elections every four years or midterm elections every two years. We have the chance to attempt to alter it. Therefore, I believe sudden, dramatic shutdowns could be detrimental to the people who work here. At Tyler Perry Studios, I currently have more than $400 million in the ground. And many individuals who would not have had the opportunity to work there now do so.
AP: You’ve had a content deal with Viacom for years. This is your first film with Netflix. Are you looking for a bigger platform?
I constructed this machine, and it is equipped to generate a massive amount of content. In order to communicate something like “Jazzman” or whatever my next project is, I want to be in a location where that content can be produced. I want to make a zombie movie that I’ve been working on for a while. I merely desire to be in a setting where I can nurture all of those things.