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The Making of ‘Maxine’s Baby,’ Tyler Perry Documentary: An Interview

The Making of ‘Maxine’s Baby,’ Tyler Perry Documentary: An Interview

Despite the many plays, films and TV shows produced by the prolific writer-director, Tyler Perry has avoided overtly mining his own personal history for this body of work. For Gelila Bekele, co-director of Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story (who also shares a child with Perry), she recognized an opportunity to share how Perry built his empire on his own — inspired in part by the Black woman who raised him, his mother, Maxine.

“I had the privilege of having a front row seat for many years, of [witnessing] this man design his dreams,” says Bekele, who adds that Maxine’s Baby was the product of a decade’s worth of following Perry with a camera. “Naturally, as a filmmaker, you want to pick up a camera and not miss a moment.”

Bekele, who also served as producer and writer, brought on board Armani Ortiz to co-direct the project, both joined for a THR Presents panel, powered by Vision Media. “She didn’t tell me it was going to be 10 years,” laughs Ortiz, who connected with Bekele through a mutual friend when he was 23 and moved to Atlanta to start documenting Perry. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime project, to spend 10 years on something and to really try to make someone’s story really come to life,” he adds. 

Bekele says the pair filmed Maxine’s Baby “shotgun style” as Perry worked on his many projects and prepared the opening of Tyler Perry Studios, a massive 330-acre lot in Atlanta that opened in 2019 — an achievement that bookends the film, reiterating how far Perry came from his youth in New Orleans. “You couple that with what he was making in Atlanta and what he was building, not only for himself, but for our community in cinema as a whole …  It became something bigger than any of us ever thought,” says Ortiz.

Also important to Bekele was for the film to celebrate Perry’s accomplishments as well as acknowledge his critics, many of whom have claimed Perry’s work is rooted in stereotypes of Black culture. “Holding space for polarity was very important for us,” she says.  “I’m not an American by birth, but I live here and I’m trying to understand history and …  also wanting to answer the question: Can an artist just be an artist without representing their culture or being a cultural ambassador?”

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For the rest of the conversation, watch the full panel above. This edition of THR Presents is sponsored by Prime Video.

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