Staying Connected: Gelila Bekele and Armani Ortiz on Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story | Interviews

“Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story” is an eye-opening documentary helmed by Gelila Bekele, who has a son with Perry, and Armani Ortiz, who has worn numerous hats at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, which is the largest film studio in the United States. Their film chronicles the origins of Perry’s work, which spawned from the love he had for his mother, Maxine, and the abuse they both endured from his father. The day prior to the film’s premiere on Prime Video, I had the chance to speak with Bekele and Ortiz in Chicago about the ever-evolving views regarding Perry’s remarkable legacy. 

Five years after his much-criticized negative review of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” Roger Ebert wrote a more favorable review of Tyler Perry’s 2010 film, “For Colored Girls,” in which he wrote, “Seeing these actresses together is a poignant reminder of their gifts, and of the absence of interesting roles for actresses in general and African-American ones in particular. A generation has been often shut out of fruitful roles.” 

Gelila Bekele (GK): Oh wow. I think that has been at the forefront of Tyler’s mind. He constantly sees the unseen and the forgotten. In this case, I remember being on the set of “For Colored Girls” and seeing this plethora of young ladies mixed with legends in this one film. We have in our film Ms. Whoopi Goldberg who says, “I won an Oscar, yes, but there were no roles after that.” That is insane because an Oscar is thought to be the pinnacle, so how does one fathom what happens afterwards as an African-American artist? Tyler does think about that, and for him, being an artist is not his only title. He also feels he has a responsibility to involve others in his projects.

Armani Ortiz (AO): Yeah, he’s using his platform to open the door for the next generation. Gelila always says it best: he roots for the underdogs. We’re underdogs. He could’ve gotten anyone to do this documentary, and for whatever reason, he entrusted it to us because of how we saw something that maybe everyone else didn’t see. To have someone like that with that type of platform constantly believing in us when he doesn’t have to, that is inspiring and very unique. 

Right after watching your film, I looked at the play version of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” on BET and was struck by the catharsis that I sensed in the audience’s laughter when Madea was onstage. 

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