Ahead of premiering his latest feature A Jazzman’s Blues at the Toronto International Film Festival, Tyler Perry sat down for a wide-ranging conversation about the long road to making the period drama and his hope for diversity in the entertainment industry.
“I am extremely excited for what has happened. The diversity, the choices, the opportunities,” said Perry in conversation with editorial director Nekesa Mumbi Moody. “But I worry because there is such a push for diversity and push for hiring people of color that I have found, in situations, that there are people [who] can be pushed into seats they are not ready for.”
Perry emphasized the need for training and mentorship in order to create sustainable diversity in Hollywood. “I don’t want to have us as Black people in seats that we weren’t ready for and then have people that are not Black that were moved out of those seats that say, ‘Look what an awful job they’re doing.’ It’s my hope that in all of this push for diversity that we are also providing the time and the training to make sure that we can do a great job.”
Jazzman marks the first time Perry has debuted a film at the Toronto Film Festival. As a period drama, it is a deviation for the filmmaker who made his name on boldfaced comedies like the Madea films.
The movie follows Bayou, a young Black man in 1940s Louisiana who finds success as a jazz singer but rekindles his romance with his childhood sweetheart, who is now a married woman and passing for white, ultimately pitting him against the racist leadership of a small Southern town.
Perry talked about the difficulties that came with casting the film, having gone out to up-and-comers in Hollywood only for actors to turn down the movie because of the poor critical reception Perry’s films have received in the past. “There is a generation that has come up that grew up on the Madea movies and enjoyed them but got a little older and they think: ‘This is so low brow,’” said Perry.
(A phone began to ring in the audience, at which point Perry slipped into his Madea character, saying, “Whose phone is that? Whose phone ring?” The character earned a massive round of applause from the audience. He laughed: “I am trying to talk about Jazzman and have some class.”)
Perry continued: “In that frustration, I thought, ‘Wait a minute, they have never seen you do anything like this.’ I don’t know if they think Madea is going to pop out from behind a tree.” Perry did cast newcomers Joshua Boone and Solea Pfeiffer.
When asked if he ever considered giving up the reins on Jazzman, Perry asserted, “Never. Not Jazzman. Not this movie because of the way I held on to it like a child.”
Netflix is behind Jazzman, having worked with the director on the last Madea film, A Madea Homecoming. “I do think there is space for a franchise to grow and become huge on streaming,” noted Perry. As for what’s next, he joked that it would be “Madea goes to Toronto.”
Perry notes that as important as it was for him to make Jazzman it is “as important that the very audience that has stood right by my side that they are satisfied.” He said, “I will never deny or leave the audience that brought me here.”
A Jazzman’s Blues will hit Netflix on Sept. 23.