Tyler Perry gave a memorable speech at a unique Oscars ceremony Sunday night, making an impassioned plea for unity and calling on people to “refuse hate” and lift others up.
The billionaire filmmaker, 51, accepted the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his for his work feeding and helping others during the pandemic. Past fellow honorees include Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Harry Belafonte, Debbie Reynolds and Geena Davis.
Following the speech, Perry told reporters backstage he felt his late mother’s presence “in the moment” and elaborated on his onstage talking points, expressing hope that more people would meet in the middle, because that’s where a person is able to put themselves “in someone else’s shoes and have empathy for those situations.”
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“Just where we are in the country and the world, and everybody is grabbing a corner and a color, and they are all – nobody wants to come to the middle to have a conversation,” he said afterward. “Everybody is polarized, and it’s in the middle where things change. So I’m hoping that that inspires people to meet us in the middle so that we can get back to some semblance of normal. As this pandemic is over, we can get to a place where we are showing love and kindness to each other again.”
Read his speech in its entirety below:
“Thank you. Thank you, that is, that’s incredibly kind. Thank you so much. They only gave me a few minutes so I wanna say a very special thanks to Miss Viola Davis, who is nominated tonight and doing this. Thank you, thank you, I really appreciate it. To the Board of Governors, especially to Whoopi Goldberg, Ava (DuVernay).
“You know when I set out to help someone, it is my intention to do just that. I’m not trying to do anything other than meet somebody at their humanity. Like a case in point, this one time I remember I was, maybe it was about 17 years ago. I rented this building and we were using it for production and I was walking to my car one day and I see this woman coming up out of the corner of my eye and I say, she’s homeless, let me give her some money.
“Judgment. I wish I had time to talk about judgment. Anyway, I reach in my pocket and I’m about to give her the money. She says, ‘Excuse me sir. Do you have any shoes?’ It stopped me cold because I remember being homeless and having one pair of shoes and they were bent over at the heels. So I was like, ‘yeah.’ So I took her into the studio. She was hesitant to go in, but we went in. We go to wardrobe and there all these boxes and everything around the walls and fabrics and racks of clothes. So we ended up having to stand in the middle of the floor. So as we’re standing there in wardrobe, we find some shoes, we help her put them on. I stand up, I’m waiting for her to look up and all this time she’s looking down. She finally looks up. She’s got tears in her eyes. She said ‘Thank you, Jesus, my feet are off the ground.’
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“In that moment I recall her saying to me ‘I thought you would hate me for asking.’ I’m like, ‘how can I hate you when I used to be you?’ How can I hate you when I had a mother who grew up in a Jim Crow South in Louisiana, rural Louisiana right across the border from Mississippi, who at 9 or 10 years old was grieving the death of Emmett Till. And she got a little bit older. She was grieving the death of the Civil Rights boys and the little girls who were in the bombing in Alabama. She grieved all this all these years and I remember being a little boy and coming home, and she was at home like, ‘what are you doing home? You supposed to be at work.’ She was in tears that day. She said there was a bomb threat and she couldn’t believe that someone wanted to blow up this place where she worked. Where she took care of all these toddlers. It was the Jewish Community Center.
“My mother taught me to refuse hate. She taught me to refuse blanket judgment, and in this time, and with all of the Internet and social media and algorithms and everything that wants us to think a certain way, the 24-hour news cycle, it is my hope that all of us, we teach our kids and I want to remember, just refuse hate. Don’t hate anybody. I refuse to hate someone because they are Mexican or because they are Black or white or LGBTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they are a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian.
“I would hope that we would refuse hate and I want to take this Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and dedicate it to anyone who wants to stand in the middle, no matter what’s around the wall. Stand in the middle ’cause that’s where healing happens. That’s where conversation happens. That’s where change happens. It happens in the middle. So anyone who wants to meet me in the middle, to refuse hate, to refuse blanket judgment, and to help lift someone’s feet off the ground, this one is for you too. God bless you and thank you Academy. I appreciate it. Thank you.”
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