The film features material gathered throughout Perry’s life with a special focus on the past decade. Viewers who watch the documentary will learn in-depth about Perry’s upbringing, his trials and tribulations within his family, his strength to pursue his passions, and ultimately be left feeling motivated. Ahead of its release, directors Gelila Bekele and Armani Ortiz spoke with Blavity’s Shadow and Act to discuss some elements of the film and the editing process that went into creating the nearly two-hour project.
“I think documentaries are unpredictable while you’re making them. You have no idea what you’ve captured until the editing room. That’s when all the puzzle pieces come together. Yet there are times where we are either interviewing someone or finding an archive that sort of really got us emotionally, so we’ve been emotional for almost 10 years,” she told Shadow and Act.
Bekele continued, “Because a lot of it is really unreal, you know, his life. This documentary, we stepped away from watching it after we finished editing after we finished editing for like a month or two and watched it just with fresh eyes, and we couldn’t believe this was a documentary, you know? And the way he moves, you know, when we are following him, the way he interacts with people, and also with so much love, care and responsibility. And also gentleness, he’s so gentle and funny and he pranks people and to see that unravel in the film, it was very hard to keep the film under two hours. That’s a big challenge because we wanted to include so much more.”
Race and demographics played a major role in Perry’s career but it wasn’t made to be a topic of the film, just something that was underlined due to how the movie unfolds. When talking about this sensitive subject, Ortiz gave insight into how they capture this element of his professional path without playing it up as would expect to see when they watch.
“We never wanted to play any subject up, we wanted to tell the truth as he, the subject, wanted to tell it,” he explained. “And obviously, when we were piecing it together in the edit room we had topics like, ‘Hey! We’re happy we’re talking about this.’ But at the same time, we wanted to lend itself to the entire story and not just this story have this little thing poking out of it, you know? We wanted it to mesh seamlessly and it is a very important part of the documentary as well because of what he has done for the Black and brown community and what he has been able to do and afford opportunities for. It’s been real amazing and to have that part of it we wanted to make sure it was highlighted, but at the same time, the whole story didn’t become that.”
“Gentle filmmaking is important. Oftentimes, we’re force-fed different topics. Also, this is how he, this is how he sort of sees his day, day-to-day, doesn’t matter what obstacle is there he’s going to keep going and be resilient. We tried to make a gentle film that sort of invites the audience versus selling anything or forcing anything,” Bekele added.
Perry’s fans will get to see his late mother Maxine Perry‘s husband and the media mogul’s father figure, Emmitt Perry Sr. The feature film will take a deep dive into their relationship and how that affected the 54-year-old’s life in a negative and positive way, although he had no intentions of participating in the documentary. The short scene that includes Perry Sr. is intense, which was something both directors talked through before deciding to incorporate the footage.
“Someone can talk about their experience with someone, and then when you actually see it, it’s a different powerful narrative, right? And also our intention was for Emmitt, the father figure, to sort of speak his peace,” Bekele said. “We wanted to make sure we created a space for polarity in the film, whether it’s with the critics with the work, whether it’s with Emmit as well. And again, our film tries to stay as true as possible as [to] what was happening and that’s the answer we were greeted by. We debated because we didn’t want anyone to look back and we’ve all had our bad days, but this was bigger than a bad day.”
“It’s one of those moments that just…it’s unique in the place that you learn so much without an answer from him. And you kind of feel what he may have felt when he was younger…and that intimidation and that ‘I’m going to do whatever I want to do’ as opposed to something else,” Ortiz agreed.
After opening the doors to the nation’s largest film production studios and spending over 20 years making a name for himself in entertainment, it’s time for the Why Did I Get Married? creator’s story to be told.
In the meantime, check out the official trailer for Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story below as the countdown to the world premiere is already underway.