ATLANTA—Tyler Perry is making movie history. The director, producer, screenwriter and actor has become the first Black person to own and operate a full-service movie and television studio. Perry celebrated his studio opening by hosting a lavish, celebrity-filled gala here Saturday night, which included guests Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Cicely Tyson.
"I spent 56 years making movies, and to see the cadre of people who followed me, and have succeeded to the extent that this man has succeeded, this is the reward that means the most to me," said Poitier on attending Perry's big night. "I couldn't do it. It was not in my purview to do it. But some how nature charged this man with a gift that is absolutely extraordinary."
Perry, who was impeccably dressed in an all-white ensemble, treated guests to an elegant evening, complete with string orchestra, choir, champagne and fireworks.
Attendees, dressed in formal black ball gowns and tuxedos, took part in many special moments, from the "walk of faith" studio tour highlighted by images of Black Hollywood icons to impromptu musical performances by Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and John Legend. The evening's most moving moment came when Perry honored Poitier, Tyson, and Dee, along with her late husband Ossie Davis, by naming a soundstage after each living legend. The announcement came as a surprise to the special guests, who were asked to christen their respective buildings by breaking a bottle of champagne on its doorstep.
"This is American history, a first in the universe," said Smith. "Tyler Perry has a dream. He knows what he wants to do, he knows how he wants to do it, and he's not letting anyone get in his way. And those are the wonderful, naïve, arrogant, humble, powerfully American concepts that make things like this possible in this country."
"I'm learning to own my life—the good, the bad, the ugly—and enjoy the moment," said Perry. "I never would have showed this to people a few years ago because I've been embarrassed by the success. Now, I've learned to just celebrate it. I thank God for it."
“Look what your baby boy has did,” said Perry to his loving parents, moments before his 200-plus guests dined on a delicious mix of Asian, Southern and Cajun cuisines. The intimate dinner featured performances by Mary J. Blige, who had Winfrey and Steadman Graham grooving to her bass-heavy, club banger "Just Fine."
The evening radiated with star wattage. Tameka Foster Raymond glowed as she greeted friends, visibly pregnant with baby No. 2 with husband Usher Raymond, who was not in attendance, while Star Jones snuggled at her table with new beau, executive chef Herb Wilson. Music industry's finest L.A. Reid and Legend talked shop, while Terri J. Vaughn, Holly Robinson Peete and Jenifer Lewis belted out “I’m Going Down” from the dance floor. Newlyweds Malinda Williams and Derrick “D-Nice” Jones got the party started right as they danced to DJ Cassidy’s old-school mixes, and the legendary Cicely Tyson ruled the dance floor way past midnight, just as Jermanie Dupri strolled in the door sans his special lady, Janet Jackson.
Other celebs in attendance included Danny Glover, Kirk Franklin, Derek Luke, Boris Kodjoe, Nicole Ari Parker, Hank Aaron, Valerie Simpson, Nick Ashford, Debbie Allen, Evander Holyfield, Tasha Smith, Malik Yoba, Tracey Edmonds, Lynn Whitfield, Kimberly Elise, Rockmond Dunbar, Johnny Gill and many, many more.
Perry, who released "The Family That Preys" last month, has enjoyed blockbuster success on the silver screen with his films "Why Did I Get Married?" and "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." This month, he'll add his second television series to his résumé when he debuts "Meet the Browns," the small-screen adaptation of his stage play, following the success of his hit show "House of Payne."