Tyler Perry reluctantly opened up today about Will Smith’s Oscar slap of Chris Rock, saying he “left early to go and check on Chris” but felt some empathy for Smith.
In a Q&A with Gayle King at the Tribeca Festival, he took issue with media reports that he had comforted Smith — who sprinted up to Rock and belted him for joking about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head.
“There is a difference between comforting and de-escalating,” Perry told King in response to her prodding on the slap in the midst of a sweeping conversation about his life and career.
“My only problem is this. If I talk about it, it become overshadowing of everything else we’ve talked about. That will be the headline,” Perry told King, who asked several times if Will Smith would keep his namesake soundstage at Tyler Perry Studios. Perry named each of the 12 stages after someone he admires.
“We can make another headline,” joked King. “I am pregnant with Tyler’s child. That’s the headline.”
Once launched, Perry continued: “I was there, close up. I left early to go and check on Chris because it was wrong in no uncertain terms and I made sure I said that to Will. He said Smith, who has been banned from the Oscar ceremony for ten years, “was devastated. He couldn’t believe he did it. And I was, ‘Look at this. What are you doing? This is your night… It was one of the crowning moments of his career that he wanted so desperately.”
Smith won the Academy Award for Best Actor for King Richard.
“I think he is very much in reflection, trying to figure out what happened,” Perry said, He alluded to a section of Smith’s recent memoir ‘Will’ that talks about “not being able to protect his mother at eight years old. I know that feeling. And if that trauma is not dealt with right away, it will show up in the most inappropriate and horrible times.”
Being friends with both Rock and Smith, the situation “was very difficult.”
“Chris was a pure champion the way he handled it. [But with Will] something happened that was very painful for him as well. It’s no excuse, but that was so out of everything he is.”
“I feel very uncomfortable. I don’t feel it is my story to tell,” he said.
Perry, the Madea creator, prolific film and television writer, director, actor and the studio chief of his 330-acre Atlanta complex, talked a bit about trauma in his own family growing up in New Orleans and how he overcame it, starting his career with a play called ‘I Know I’ve Been Changed’ about adult survivors of abuse. He held lots of odd jobs and slept in his car at one point before becoming the first black studio owner and one of the nations most influential African American creative and businessman.
He said his drive and his success come from an unwavering commitment to his core Black audience. “Crossover means what are you going to do to make white people like you? What are you going to do to be more mainstream? I always rejected that,” he said, “You come over here to see what we are doing.”
Perry noted that his annual payroll this year and last is about $154 million “that’s going 99% to Black people.”
He likes to work fast and clean and takes issue with directors who haven’t thought out their shots ahead — who arrive on set when everyone’s ready to go and say, “‘Hmm, I think I want to try to move the light this way, and have you come over here.’ I am like, ‘Work all that shit out at your house.”
“I will do one take, but have three cameras rolling at once, and as I am shooting I am editing in my head,” he said.
“The waste we spend in Hollywood, we could run a small country,” he said.
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