Tyler Perry Studios gala shines light on celebrities, leaders – including Gov. Brian KempMovie producer Spike Lee is interviewed on the Red Carper at the opening of Tyler Perry Studios (Photo by Maria Saporta)
By Maria Saporta
Hollywood literally did come to Atlanta Saturday night for the grand opening gala of Tyler Perry Studios at Fort McPherson.
It was a glitzy, star-studded affair with some of the biggest actors, directors, singers, rappers, hip-hop artists, politicians and civil rights legends.
The elaborate evening was a highly-executive affair with attention to every last detail – from the most impressive and elaborate red carpet processions in the corridor between the 12 studios that Tyler Perry has built since he bought 330 acres of the former Fort McPherson.
Each stage was named after icons in the entertainment world – Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg, Sir Sidney Poitier, Halle Berry, Will Smith, Harry Belafonte, Cicely Tyson, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, and the late John Singleton, Diahann Carroll, and Della Reese.
Most of those honorees were present – Winfrey, Washington, Lee, Goldberg, Berry, Smith and Tyson – happily christening each new studio by breaking a bottle of champagne that triggered fireworks above each individual studio. When it came to the dedication of Studio 1 – named after Oprah Winfrey – fireworks filled the entire scene.
But in the midst of the fun-filled hoopla, another sub-plot was underway.
Perry had invited Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan to the gala – as a welcoming gesture.
Before Saturday night, Perry had never met the governor and he had hoped the two would be able to build a relationship.
For the past 25 years, Perry has been busy building a movie and television empire – developing the only major motion picture studio on the East coast that has a content creation company anchored by a studio lot.
Georgia’s movie industry has blossomed in the past decade – especially after the state adopted lucrative tax credits for companies producing their movies and television shows in Georgia. As a result, Georgia has become one to the leading locations for the filming of major movies and TV series.
But there’s has been growing anxiety that the industry in Georgia could decline if the state legislature pushes socially restrictive legislation, such as the anti-abortion “heart-beat” bill or the potentially discriminatory religious liberty legislation.
Gov. Kemp and Lt. Gov. Duncan will be pivotal players as to whether Georgia will continue to be a state that is friendly to the movie industry.
During the evening’s festivities, Duncan was asked his thoughts about the opening of Tyler Perry Studios.
“I’m just glad to be part of such a great celebration of Tyler’s success,” he said.
Kemp also said he was glad to be there, but he did not seem to want to engage in a deeper conversation.
Both Kemp and Duncan were there for the cocktail reception, the grand procession to dedicate the 12 studios and the elegant dinner that took place in Studio No. 1 – named after Oprah – that had been transformed into a multi-level luxurious ballroom.
Before dinner was served, Perry freely moved around the space talking to many of the 1,000 guests who had been invited to be part of the festivities.
When asked if he had been able to meet with the governor, Perry said yes.
“I spoke to the governor, and we had a good conversation,” Perry said. “This is a non-partisan night. It’s not about politics. It’s about celebrating Georgia.”
Also present at Saturday night’s gala was Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, who is also the primary investor in Pinewood Studios in Fayette County.
Cathy was asked if Kemp understood the importance of the movie industry in Georgia.
“He knows,” Cathy said.
Meanwhile the whole night was also a way to introduce world-famous actors, musicians, entertainers and leaders to Georgia by the public unveiling of Tyler Perry Studios.
“This may be the most celebrities who have been in Atlanta since the 1996 Olympics,” observed Sharon Gay, the Atlanta managing partner of the global law firm – Dentons.
Many of Atlanta’s civil rights leaders also attended the gala – Andrew Young, and his wife, Carolyn; C.T. Vivian, Hank Aaron and his wife, Billye; Bernice King; and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta).
“It’s amazing,” Lewis said at the dinner. “Hollywood is really coming to Atlanta. I’m very pleased it’s happening in the 5th Congressional district.”
Lewis also commented that it likely was the first time so many African-American entertainers had been honored and celebrated at a major movie production studio. It only made sense for Atlanta to be the backdrop for such an occasion.
Among the notable guests who attended the gala (a highly-sought invitation) were:
Beyonce and Jay-Z; former President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton; “P Diddy” Sean Combs; Ava DuVernay; Samuel L. Jackson; Viola Davis; Stacey Abrams; U.S. Rep Maxine Waters; Tiffany Haddish; Tamera Mowry-Housley; Loni Love; Jeannie Mai and Jeezy; Ludacris; Usher; Tyrese; 2 Chainz; TI; Terrance Howard; Gladys Knight; Gayle King; Jenifer Lewis; Kelly Rowland; Michelle Williams; Patti LaBelle; Tina Knowles; Tamron Hall; Keshia Knight Pulliam; Storm Reid and BeBe Winans.
The evening also included surprise performance by Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige., Ledisi, and Morgan James.
Other attendees included Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and her husband, Derrek Bottoms; former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; legendary boxer Evander Holyfield; Blair Underwood; Killer Mike; April Ryan; Jermaine Dupree; Jill Scott; Kenny Leon; Pastor Shirley Caesar; Will Packer, Byron Allen; Taraji Henson; Chris Tucker; Bishop T.D. Jakes; Dallas Austin; Colin Kaepernick; La La Anthony; Phylicia Rashad; Don Lemmon, Johnny Gill; Jackée Harry; David Oyelowo; Louis Gosset Jr. and the list goes on.
One of the more poignant moments of the night was when Tyler Perry christened the studio named after Diahann Carroll, who had died the day before.
“She was so excited about this,” Perry told the attendees about Carroll while asking everyone to cheer in her honor. “Let’s let her hear it in heaven guys.”
To see a slideshow from the evening, please click here.