Over 10 years ago Felipe Santos, a Mexican immigrant, was arrested by deputy Steve Calkins, and was never seen or heard from again. A year later the exact same incident repeated itself with a Black man named Terrance Williams.
Most people aren’t likely to know this story because for the mainstream press, it wasn’t enticing enough. These men’s histories didn’t make media sympathize with them. But the now legendary director and actor Tyler Perry could tell you every detail of each of these stories, and what efforts are being made in the cases.
“What is important to me is that someday these two men have a voice of someone like me who will go to mainstream press and say ‘hey, why aren’t you talking about this’, ” Perry explained.
“When they tell me these people aren’t sympathetic, because one’s been to jail and the other’s an immigrant, I go down to Florida and I put up a $100,000 reward for any information, that’s what I do to help.”
Perry and the stars of two of his television series sat down on Friday to discuss the growing success of Perry’s shows on the Oprah Winfery Network (OWN).
With “The Haves and The Have Nots” September finale airing to an audience of 3.7 million viewers and “Love Thy Neighbor” ranking in the top 3 Friday night original cable series for African-American women, the two shows are holding their own against prime time shows with similar demographics.
“I prefer to be on the front line in the sense, of things that move me in that way,” Perry said of his personal activism. “I think these things are just as powerful as being a part of something like Black Lives Matter”
When asked about why Black Lives Matter or specific current events don’t make it into his shows, Perry’s response was simple.
“I shoot too fast to stay current on what’s going on.”
With the cast shooting at a rate of one to two episodes a day, it’s impossible to fit in current issues, but Perry’s not too concerned with that.
“It’s very difficult for me to be timely on my messages unless it’s some sort of prophetic thing that happens; which has happened in the past. Where we find ourselves dropping the show right at the time of something going on socially.”
In an interview with JAWBREAKER Angela Robinson, who plays everyone’s favorite villain Veronica Harrington on “The Haves and the Have Nots”, recalls a time when an episode about the shooting of a little girl aired just around the time of the protests for Trayvon Martin’s death. The marchers in the episode mimicked the protest of real life perfectly with no planning.
Perry and the stars of his shows seem to believe art imitates life as long as what you create is authentic.
“I’d rather focus on the good that I’m trying to put out, than what’s going on in everyone else’s heartache,” said Perry.
With the massive numbers the show pulls in, Perry is focused on using those numbers to deliver important, universal messages.
“It’s great to be a part of a community effort that matters,” said John Schneider, who plays Jim Cryer on “The Haves and the Have Nots”.
“It matters if we do well because people are paying attention to these messages.” In classic Tyler Perry form, there is virtually no message he doesn’t seem willing to tackle. “Tyler doesn’t have any blinders,” Schneider said.
One of the most important and visible issues Perry tackles in “The Haves and The Have Nots” is the relationship between Veronica Harrington and her gay son, Jeffrey Harrington, played by Gavin Houston.
Veronica wants her son to be straight so badly she’s done everything from tricking him into getting a girl pregnant, to hiring thugs to rough him up, hoping she could beat the gay away. She is down right evil to her son, and even though it’s a harsh character to play, Robinson is committed to the mean.
“My roots are in theater, and I do have a lot of gay friends, so whenever I felt like Tyler was going overboard with how awful Veronica was to Jeffrey, when he wouldn’t let up and start to bring her around, I would talk to them about it,” Robinson said.
“Some of them actually told me stories that were worse than anything Tyler had wrote. But most of them would tell me if Veronica were to come around in only a year or two, she wouldn’t be realistic.”
As awful a person as Veronica Harrington is, Robinson sees how Perry’s medium reaches audiences who wouldn’t be willing to look at the issue differently before.
“I feel honored to be a part of this storyline. I want people to see the message, so I’m 100% committed to the mean.”
Perry credits the growing success of his shows to Oprah Winfrey, OWN, and the fans who have loyally tuned in to watch it all unfold.
Photos: Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Oprah Winfrey Network