As an actor, writer, producer, and director of films and stage plays, the New Orleans-born Tyler Perry began his career as a dramatist in 1992. When inspired by Oprah Winfrey to channel his creativity through writing, Perry put pen to paper as a method of healing the wounds that lingered from a painful childhood. His first production, entitled I Know I've Been Changed, hit the stage to rapturous reviews in 1997, and following a collaborative period with Bishop T.D. Jakes that resulted in the plays Woman, Thou Art Loosed and Behind Closed Doors, Perry flew solo to create cantankerous 68-year-old grandmother Mabel "Madea" Simmons (whom Perry played, in full drag) in I Can Do Bad All by Myself around 2000 A slew of Madea-based projects were quick to follow, and shortly thereafter Perry joined Grammy Award-winner Kelly Price for the play Why Did I Get Married?. His plays garnered countless fans thanks to Perry's trademark practice of releasing them on home video. Throughout this period, many credited Perry with resuscitating (and reinventing) African-American theater; in the process, Perry's first eight plays reportedly earned a cumulative gross of over 75 million dollars in ticket and video sales.
Perry didn't fully enter the public spotlight, however, until he cropped up in mid-2005 with the oddball A-lister Diary of a Mad Black Woman, self-adapted from his own hit play. This story of an African-American woman Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise) struggling to rebound after a painful separation, whose life is invaded (in more ways than one) by the obnoxious, loudmouthed, chainsaw-wielding (!) Madea, Diary -- a bizarre combination of domestic melodrama, violent, racially-oriented farce, and Christian proselytizing -- understandably left many critics running for the exit, but, of course, ticket buyers prevailed. The film scored with its intended African-American audience and grossed a healthy 50 million dollars (it ranked as number one at the box office during February 2005), leading to an early 2006 sequel, Madea's Family Reunion, this one written and directed by Perry.
Either because Perry's talent had matured within a year or because the press had grown accustomed to the playwright-cum-filmmaker's defiantly unconventional style, critics were slightly kinder about the sophomore Madea outing, which benefits from finely-felt supporting turns by the legendary Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou. Like its predecessor, Reunion struck box office gold, and even topped Diary's net, reeling in an estimated 63.3 million dollars in international grosses. Perry then scrapped the Madea character for a tertiary cinematic outing, Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls. This romantic dramedy concerns Monty (Idris Elba), a financially strapped African-American mechanic who loses custody of his children to his drug-pushing ex-wife, and then falls in love with the beautiful attorney (Gabrielle Union) whom he hires to get the children back. Increasingly prolific on stage and screen in the following years, Perry continued packing fans into theaters with Madea Goes to Jail (2009), I Can Do Bad All By Myself (also 2009), Good Deeds (2012) and Madea's Witness Protection while simultaneously making a mark on television as creator of the hit sitcom Tyler Perry's House of Payne. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi