Tyler Perry, one of the most successful filmmakers of our time, is a singular storyteller who catapulted to fame with boisterous comedies like the wildly successful “Madea” movies. Yet, this month, the latest feature from his vault will surprise many: it’s the first screenplay he wrote 27 years ago and it’s a heartbreaking tale of forbidden love.
Perry, a box office juggernaut, wrote, directed and produced “A Jazzman’s Blues,” which he says is “probably the happiest and the most excited I’ve been directing out of everything I’ve ever done.”
In the mid-90s, the filmmaker and actor was broke and living in Atlanta, and when he couldn’t afford to see “Seven Guitars” at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta he snuck in. At the after-party, he summoned up the courage to approach playwright August Wilson and told him his hopes and dreams. Wilson encouraged him to write the story he wanted to write, so Perry went home and started writing “A Jazzman’s Blues” that night.
“It was reflecting on my own life and I think, subconsciously, a lot of my own life showed up while writing. In moments of sadness, there was always music; and moments of great happenings, there was always music and laughter and joy. My grandfather actually owned a juke joint called the S Club. I remember seeing those people in rural Louisiana having a good time. So I pulled on all of those experiences,” he said in an interview at a downtown hotel.
The Netflix film, streaming on Sept. 23, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend. It is set in Georgia in the late ’30s and ’40s and follows amateur jazz singer Bayou (Joshua Boone), who meets and falls in love with light-skinned Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer). However, their relationship is forbidden and they are torn apart.
When they meet again years later, Bayou is a successful jazz singer and Leanne has married a white man while passing as white. With their love reignited, they conspire to escape together, but the small Southern town won’t allow it. The film also stars Amirah Vann, Austin Scott and Ryan Eggold.
For the New Orleans-born Perry, it’s the ongoing politics in the U.S. that made him realize the timelessness and timeliness of this film. “I was reading so much and watching so much of what is happening politically in America and how all of these certain packs of politicians have this assault on our history.
“They want to ban books, they don’t want to teach talk about slavery, they don’t want to talk about the things that Black people endured in America. So I thought if this movie sparks someone to go and research and find out what really happened, then it’s time to do it.”
In an interview in Toronto, Pfeiffer, who makes her feature film debut, described working on this project as a “dream come true to get to play this beautifully written character. I’m just grateful to Tyler for putting pen to paper.”
For his part, Boone “wanted to live in the humanity of the story” and hopes that translates through the film, “so people watch it, regardless of how they grew up or their race, and they connect to it and understand these humans.”
Since the project is a personal one, it impacted the approach Perry took. “I learned that when I really love it, it’s a much different experience. When everything is in line, it’s a much different experience than just the work.”
He was confident because he had the right cast. “I also had these great set designers, so from the moment I saw the first set and the first car, I knew we were on the right path.”
Had he made the film back when he wrote it, Perry knows it would have been much different. He says it’s his years of experience that made this film come to fruition now.
“I don’t even want to imagine it because I think it took all of these years of experience of camera work, of being behind the camera and in front of the camera, to understand how to visually make it look like what I felt or saw in my mind when I was writing it.”
Perry, named one of the highest paid entertainers of 2022 by Forbes, is known for his incredible work ethic, as he writes, directs and produces while leading the charge at Tyler Perry Studios.
Pfeiffer described working at Tyler Perry Studios as “this hub of Black excellence. It’s actually not that typical working onstage or screen in general that you get to work with an almost entirely Black crew and that’s a privilege.”
So what makes the exploration of forbidden love a good story to watch onscreen? Perry said he believes that “we’ve all experienced it at one point or another … unrequited love or love that ended badly or love that worked. So love is the thing that everybody wants at some point.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION