At Sunday’s virtual Emmy Awards ceremony, filmmaker Tyler Perry and the Perry Foundation were given the Governor’s Award for outstanding achievement in the arts and sciences. Oprah Winfrey and Chris Rock paid homage to Perry’s body of work that has highlighted Black stories for decades.
In his speech, Perry shouted out to the diversity of the people who work with him and the importance of telling diverse stories, including LGBTQ+ narratives.
He recalled a quilt his grandmother made for him, which he said he didn’t like very much.
“I had no respect for this quilt that she had given me,” sharing that he’d tossed it in the car and to pat down his dog when it was wet.
He continued by saying that years later he saw a quilt in the window of an antique store and the owner explained its significance to him.
“It was made by an African American woman who was a former slave. Each patch she had put in represented a part of her life. One part was from a dress that she was wearing when she found out she was free. Another part was from her wedding dress when she jumped the broom,” Perry said was that quilt’s backstory.
He said that he became embarrassed about his past actions as he listened.
“I pride myelf on being someone who recognizes our heritage, our culture,” Perry said. “And I didn’t even recognize the value in my grandmother’s quilt. I dismissed her work and her story because it didn’t look like what I thought it should.”
“Whether we know it or not, we are all sewing our own quilts with our thoughts, our behaviors, our experiences, and our memories,” he said.
He told another story about an incident where his father stood by the front door waiting to be paid for a job he’d done for a white man. When the man never showed up, Perry’s mom said, “Don’t you ever stand by the door waiting for white folks to do nothing for you.”
“On her own quilt, she couldn’t imagine me actually building my own door and holding that door open for thousands of people,” Perry said of the world he built. “In my mother’s quilt, she couldn’t imagine me owning land that was once a Confederate army base where Confederate soldiers plotted and planned on how to keep Blacks enslaved.”
Perry then shouted out to those who work with him to tell stories and to the value of visibility for all.
“Now, on that very land, Black people, white people, gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, ex-cons, Latin, Asian, all of us, come together working — all coming together to add patches to a quilt that is as diverse as it can be. Diversity at its best.”