The Evolution of Tyler Perry: Gelila Bekele and Armani Ortiz Successfully Tell the Story of The Media Mogul

It’s never easy telling someone else’s story, but filmmakers Gelila Bekele and Armani Ortiz do it very well. The incredible journey of Tyler Perry is finally being told and the fans can experience it all by watching Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story. The documentary shows us Tyler’s very personal life, from his childhood to the present day. From his sour relationship with his father to his loving and kind relationship with his mother, this documentary shows it all—the good, the bad and the mogul.

The co-directors tell EBONY how they were able to get the access and trust necessary to bring this documentary to life.

EBONY: How did both of you plan to execute this documentary?

Gelila Bekele: I think it was more about patience. He’s a very busy man so we didn’t want to be in the way of what he was doing. We kept it very small. We did shotgun style, one camera, no crew and we couldn’t even mic him, so it was very low-key. That’s sort of my philosophy in documentary filmmaking. I think if you have a big production going on, it compromises the natural flow of someone’s day-to-day behavior.

Armani Ortiz: It was just me and the camera, for the majority of the 10 years. Obviously, Gelila was a part of that, coming down and making sure that everything was good, asking questions, and being in that zone as well. I learned how to be in his space, and then ultimately gain his trust and his confidence to tell his story.

Was this documentary always in the plan to create?

Bekele: Initially, no. I just knew I documented something that was happening. I had a front-row seat at the moment and didn’t want to miss the chance.

"Tyler Perry"
Tyler Perry”. Image: Courtesy of Tyler Perry

Other than trying to record his father, what other challenges did you face during the filming of this documentary?

Bekele: We didn’t want to distract the actors or production that was going on, or if he was doing a play, or if he was doing press. I think that the hardest part was the expectations we had for ourselves. Making sure we told the full story, that’s probably the most challenging part. We didn’t want to just make a fluff piece, but make it a full well-rounded story.

Ortiz: I think the hardest part was him speaking about his mother … that is his heart. That is his reasoning for how he works hard, and why he does the things that he that he does. In the whole 10 years? The hardest part was knowing that every single day was history. There was no day when we could take off just for the way that TP moves and the way he operates.

What was his reaction to seeing this documentary?

Bekele: Yes, he saw it right before we even went to distribution. The emotion of watching his mother on the big screen still hits him really hard. It was sort of like a shock and he was happy with it. That was a very happy day. That is the moment you feel the most satisfied. It’s not even the release, it’s more about seeing your subjects watch themselves and they say “Oh, wow, that is really me. You captured me”.

Ortiz: It was one of the most nerve-wracking times for me and Gelila because we spent 10 years on it. Then we were waiting for him to say something to us. He literally just said, “Beautiful.” To hear his mother’s voice for the first time in a long time. It’s something that maybe took him off guard because he didn’t know that that footage was in there.

"Gelila Bekele"
Gelila Bekele. Image: Courtesy of Bryan Whitley.
"Armani Ortiz"
Armani Ortiz. Image: Courtesy of Armani Ortiz

I know you had 10 years of footage and it’s only packed into less than two hours. What did you capture that we won’t see in this documentary?

Ortiz: The one thing that I really wanted to put in there, is that TP is a prankster. TP would prank me 24/7 because my office is right across from his office because I work at Tyler Perry Studios. Obviously, I can never prank come back, because he’s TP and you know that’s not going to stand, but it was something that I really wish I would try to sneak into the bloopers but we didn’t have enough time.

You said you worked across the hall from Tyler Perry. What is that working relationship like?

Ortiz: It’s fantastic. He’s like a father figure to me. Over the past 10 years, he has taught me so much about what it actually means to be a director. The biggest advice he’s ever given me is ”It’s not about you. None of this is about you.” From seeing that from that type of lens and seeing it in practice for 10 years, you really start realizing how important it is.

How are long-time fans of Tyler Perry or his work going to feel after they watch this documentary?

Bekele: In this documentary, you’re seeing him through a very intimate lens. For those who are sort of entrepreneurs, hopefully, they are able to see and learn from all of the business formulas and barriers he’s broken and feel inspired to continue into what they’re doing. For some who are sort of struggling in the healing process or in the forgiveness process, can see themselves and sort of find peace, or bring them closer to some sort of reconciling.

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Updated: November 17, 2023 — 3:01 pm