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In October 2019, Tyler Perry made the news with the gala, all-star opening of his film and TV studio in Atlanta. Almost every Black actor of renown was part of the celebration. Plenty of younger actors actually cried on camera out of joy, at the thought that finally, finally at last there was a Black-owned studio. More established and experienced people, like Oprah Winfrey, just smiled, because as much as they honored him that night, they privately knew the quiet limits of his accomplishment, because they know what the word “studio” really means.
I’ve got nothing against Tyler Perry—quite the contrary. He proved there was a viable, profit-making business model making films for American Black audiences that wasn’t ‘70s-style blaxploitation, but were mainstream, family entertainment. There’s a lot of interest in making films and TV shows in the South, and there’s a good business case for building facilities there. But the question remains: in the real world, what’s a studio?