Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, had recently relocated to Canada early last year when they found themselves facing both the coronavirus pandemic and a potential threat to their safety.
A British tabloid had just published their exact location near Vancouver, but the couple – then in the midst of “stepping back” from their roles as senior royals – were about to lose their security services from the palace.
“Suddenly it dawned on me, ‘Hang on, the borders could be closed. . . . The world knows where we are. It’s not safe, it’s not secure, we probably need to get out of here,” Harry recalled to Oprah Winfrey during an explosive, in-depth interview that aired Sunday night.
The couple’s saving grace, he said, ended up coming from an unexpected source: Tyler Perry, the powerful and polarizing producer, director, writer and actor. For three months in 2020, Meghan, Harry, and their infant son Archie stayed at one of Perry’s houses in Southern California with a full security detail.
“We didn’t have a plan,” Meghan told Winfrey. The invitation from Perry, a close friend, “gave us breathing room to try to figure out what we were going to do,” she said.
In one stunning anecdote after another, the couple on Sunday decried the struggles they faced as members of the royal family, including “concerns and conversations” from inside Buckingham Palace about how dark Archie’s skin would be. Harry and Meaghan said the climate was so difficult it pushed them to flee across the pond.
Yet many on the Internet seemed surprised that Perry, a billionaire entertainer perhaps best known for playing a spunky, foul-mouthed Southern grandma in drag, would emerge as an unlikely hero in the royal saga, providing protection for the couple when the palace wouldn’t.
If Perry’s role offered another unexpected revelation in the royal saga, it also arguably points to his rise to ubiquity in the entertainment world. In little more than two decades, he went from homelessness to reigning over a billion-dollar multimedia empire.
Now, to top it off, he’s become a footnote, of sorts, in British royal history.
A high school dropout born into poverty, Perry briefly lived out of his car while finishing his first play. It was Winfrey who took him under her wing, bringing him onto her talk showin 2001 after seeing one of his first productions.
“Perry has succeeded for two reasons: He has honed a product that too many others viewed as destined for the discount bin,” Madeline Berg wrote in Forbes Magazine, which last fall estimated his net worth at $1 billion. “And he made sure to control it all.”
His production company, Tyler Perry Studios, is the only major film studio owned by a Black person, according to the Los Angeles Times, and was home to the first TV series filmed entirely during the pandemic.
The sprawling former Confederate army base he turned into the company’s Atlanta headquarters even hosted a presidential primary debate in 2019. In a testament to his wide reach, local doctors specifically recruited him to get vaccinated on camera earlier this year as a way to fight skepticism among his Black fan base.
During the pandemic, he has regularly donated to fight food insecurity, and next month at the Academy Awards, he will be honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
“Tyler’s cultural influence extends far beyond his work as a filmmaker,” academy president David Rubin said in a statement to the Associated Press. “He has quietly and steadily focused on humanitarian and social justice causes from the beginning of his career, caring for people who are most often ignored.”
Yet his rise has not been without controversy. Perry’s Madea character has long been criticized for peddling what the writer Jamilah Lemieux once described as “the worst black pathologies and stereotypes.” While churning out a never-ending stream of movies, plays and TV shows – sometimes several in one year – the producer has also been slammed for writing all of his scripts himself and allegedly denying opportunities to up-and-coming Black writers.
But as some on social media pointed out, there was a salient racial element to his role in Harry and Meghan’s royal saga. While running away from the racist abuse of British tabloids, it was two Black American media moguls – Perry and Winfrey – who helped the couple once they decamped for North America.
If Buckingham Palace had left them feeling unprotected and silenced, the two Black billionaires had done the opposite. As one CNN editor wrote on Twitter, “A Black man gave them a home. A Black woman gave them a platform.”
Others highlighting Perry’s role in the episode, however, seemed to relish in the possibilities for future entertainment projects.
“Who’s playing Tyler Perry in The Crown season 8?” one person asked on Twitter.