By JONATHAN LANDRUM JR.
ATLANTA – Tyler Perry is known for creating opportunities for black actors. But recently the African American filmmaker weathered a backlash for assembling an all-white starring cast for the TLC drama series “Too Close to Home.”
Perry rejects the criticism, much of it on social media. Some questioned his casting choices, with one calling the show an “all time low” for the producer when the series aired this year.
But by the end of the season, those harsh words turned mostly into praise of the series.
“That’s totally reverse racism, because it was coming from African American people,” said Perry, speaking with The Associated Press in his office at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.
“I don’t know if it was because they thought I should only be giving jobs to black people. Well, I think that’s ridiculous. If you look at the hundreds of black people I’ve given jobs to and even the ones I’ve made millionaires, people of color, I just think it’s unfair.”
These days, the 47-year-old Perry is more color- blind than ever. He said his years traveling the globe and interacting with people of varying cultures while working his ventures, including his “Madea” stage play production tours, have helped him see things through a different lens.
“I’m just finding out more as I travel the country and world, the more I meet people, we’re all the same,” he said. “We all got the same dramas. So I’m not seeing color as much as I did anymore in the sense of our stories. Our stories are so similar.”
The second half of the first season of Perry’s newest drama – “Too Close to Home” – premiered Jan. 4 on TLC.
The first-ever scripted series for the TLC network, it tells of a young woman named Anna who is forced to flee Washington, D.C., after a political scandal involving her affair with the U.S. president. A woman of modest beginnings, Anna finds refuge from the national headlines in the only place she can: the trailer park community in her hometown of Happy, Alabama, she once eagerly left behind.
“Too Close to Home” stars Danielle Savre (Anna), Kelly Sullivan (Bonnie, Anna’s sister) and Brock O’Hurn (Brody). Heather Locklear returns to television as the president’s scorned first lady and Matt Battaglia as president.
Following the criticism of Perry for having an all- white starring cast, Savre was nervous heading into the first season – never mind that the wider cast beyond its white stars is diverse. And once the show was approved for eight more episodes, she felt more at ease.
“We were scared and just really wanted this to work out,” she said. “The nerves are still there, because we want it to be really good. It’s being nervous and excitement at the same time.”
The series resumes by introducing several dramatic plot lines. Some power players in the nation’s capital are still hunting for Anna, a love triangle causes a rift between Anna and her sister Bonnie, and Bonnie also unveils a family secret – their father molested them.
“I’m sitting back like, wow, now I know why I left,” Savre said of her character. “But I don’t have anywhere else to go. I really don’t have a choice. So I’m just taking it all in. You get to see why all of us are really messed up.”
Perry was initially hesitant to create a new show when he got a call from David Zaslav, the president of Discovery Communications – which owns the TLC network. But once the filmmaker began creating some of the characters in the writing process, he felt more confident about moving forward with the project. On the series, he’s the writer, director and producer.
In writing the script, Perry offers a glimpse of his own experiences of once living in a trailer park community with other relatives in a small Louisiana town.
“I know that world very well,” said Perry. “The same stories I’m relating to and telling, it could be anyone black or white. I’m not trying to the shine a light on a certain stereotype or certain people in a trailer park. It’s my own experiences from having spent time and sleeping there.”