A few days ago, I posted a piece about screenwriter Tyler Perry and the four writers he fired for attempting to organize his hit TBS show, House of Payne, according to Writers Guild standards.
This weekend, the WGA hosted a protest at the grand opening of Tyler Perry Studios, in Atlanta. Although I wasn’t able to go, a fellow writer and WGA member, Vince, was on hand and sent me this report…
I flew from LA to Atlanta this weekend to support the four writers who were unjustly axed from Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” for the crime of trying to secure decent working conditions — on a show that has already earned Perry’s company about $300 million dollars in license and syndication fees! I got into Atlanta Saturday afternoon, just in time to join the picket gathering outside the Tyler Perry Studios in southwest Atlanta, where Perry was hosting a black tie gala to celebrate the opening of his new movie lot. Obviously, our goal was to send a message about Tyler Perry’s abysmal labor practices to the Hollywood royalty he’d invited to the black tie affair.
With picket signs emblazoned with the slogan “Tyler Perry’s House of Shame” in hand, we set up our picket line across the street and a few yards down the road from the studio gate (which, unfortunately, was as close as the local constabulatory would allow us to get to the studio.) As it turned out, that didn’t matter. Despite our less than perfect proximity to the lot’s entrance, we made sure we were seen–and heard–by every guest in every limo that made that sharp right turn into the studio gates. As loud as we were, I’m fairly confident we were the talk of the celebs and well wishers who gathered on the red carpet a few yards just inside the gates.
Fortunately, at least some members of the local press were willing to venture across the street to see what all the hubbub was about. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution included a couple of scathing quotes from the picketers’ side of the street in their coverage of the Perry gala the next morning. We also spoke to a New York Times stringer, as well as a reporter from the local alternative weekly. But the best coverage of the day came from the local CBS affiliate, who filmed us for a piece they ran the next morning. According to one of our people, who happened to have the TV on when that piece was broadcast the next morning, the local news anchor teased the story by announcing, “Coming up next: Tyler Perry throws a big party at his new studio…but all is not well outside the gates. Stay tuned.” If nothing else, we definitely prevented the local media from settling for the kind of fawning coverage Tyler must have been hoped for.
Even more effective than the Saturday night event outside the studio was the picket we organized the following morning in front of Tyler Perry’s mansion, where the mogul was hosting a Sunday Morning gospel brunch. Unlike the night before, this time we managed to set up our line directly across the street from the millionaire’s front gate, in full view of every limo and town car that pulled into the mogul’s gated driveway.
Beyond the positive press we were able to generate for the cause, I think the weekend offered a well needed morale boost for the four fired writers. They had to be heartened by the near unanimous support we got from every one of the few community people who managed to get through the police line to our picket line on Saturday night. Once they heard the woeful story of our writers’ unceremonious firing four days earlier, most of these locals were more than happy to grab a sign and march right along with us. One outspoken local was a beautician who insisted that her two teenaged sons join our picket as well. Another, an older woman and self described Tyler fanatic, insisted that she was “shocked in awe” to discover how poorly Tyler treated his workers. Before she left, she vowed to post a message on the Tyler Perry fan website demanding that the star explain himself. Equally gratifying was the local, and very vocal, Atlanta SAG member who took it on herself to lead most of our pointed chants. We were also joined by a local, and very vocal, Atlanta SAG member, as well as a handful of folks who worked below the line on some of Perry’s other shows. One supporter who sometimes worked as prop man actually turned down a chance to work at the party that night in order to stand with us outside the gates.
All in all, it was clearly a worthwhile event, and provided a righteous kick-off to what I hope is a very short campaign to convince Tyler Perry to do right by his writers!
Thanks to Vince for the front-lines report… and to all the
writers and friends-of-writers who showed up to help Perry’s staff
fight for fair wages, residuals, and health and pension plans!
Click HERE to sign the WGA’s letter of support… and to join the Guild’s fight against Tyler Perry and unfair labor practices and to help fired writers Kellie Griffin, Christopher Moore, Teri Brown-Jackson, and Lamont Ferrell!