TYLER PERRY IS PROVING TO BE a big embarrassment to the Obama campaign. And not over his execrable TV shows and motion pictures which perpetuate racial stereotypes. Instead, it’s because the writer/actor/director/producer/author/playwright is one of the Democratic presidential candidate’s staunchest supporters, prized campaigners and film biographers, and a union buster.
Right now, Perry is persona non grata in most of Hollywood (except at Lionsgate, the minimajor that distributes his film crapola). Dozens upon dozens of the biggest names in scripted television have even gone so far as to sign an open letter bashing him after the Writers Guild filed charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] on October 2, accusing Perry of firing more than half his writing staff on the TBS sitcom House of Payne because of their union activity, and bargaining in bad faith with the Hollywood guild.
Good thing Obama declined Perry’s invitation to the grand opening of his Tyler Perry Studios on the outskirts of Atlanta this month. Had he not, the Democrat endorsed by many labor unions would have been met by picket lines thrown up by the Writers Guild of America and supported by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Like most of Obama’s show-biz supporters, Perry is a campaign donor. But Perry also has been stumping for Obama, most recently in the battleground state of Florida in front of faith-based groups because of his own religious zeal.
The native Southerner spoke to several hundred people at the New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale one recent Friday to encourage them to register and vote for Obama. He said he’d never cast a ballot in his 39 years, but Obama had moved him to register to vote, “not because Barack Obama is black. That would be a ridiculous reason to vote for somebody. [But because] he is the best candidate and the most qualified to lead this nation.”
While campaigning in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Perry talked about how he’d been one of those people who didn’t believe his vote made a difference. “There are a lot of people who think that way. I was wrong,” said Perry. But, the entertainment mogul added, after he heard a speech in which Obama outlined his background, “It became clear to me that finally someone has come along who can relate to hard-working people.”
Perry also has announced plans to make an Obama film. He claims he is already writing — and plans to direct and produce as soon as late this year — a love story inspired by the relationship between Obama and his wife, Michelle. Perry has said he dreams of casting Denzel Washington and Angela Bassett in the lead roles. The idea for the film occurred to Perry after he had dinner with the couple. (Oprah Winfrey, another big Obama supporter, whose own union track record is one of the worst, introduced them.) “They just inspired this amazing love story with a little political twist. ... It’s called For the Love of You and it’s about his love for his woman. It’s going to be amazing.”
Allegations against Perry of union-busting are so embarrassing to Obama because unions are the stronghold of the Democratic Party, and the candidate had to spend considerable time and effort courting the national unions for their primary and general-election support. Most of the union support went to Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in the first stages of the primary, then began to swing to Obama when Edwards dropped out of the race and endorsed the Illinois senator.
Union support will prove vital to Obama against McCain in the battleground states of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which have all lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing and blue-collar jobs under Dubya’s administration. Nevada is another battleground state, and Obama was only able to win over Hillary there because of the endorsement he received from the state’s influential 60,000-member Culinary Union, which represents Nevada’s casino, hotel and restaurant employees, in conjunction with its parent union, Unite Here, which has 460,000 members nationwide.
Obama also has been endorsed in the general election by the steelworkers, mine workers and AFL-CIO unions. And the Writers Guild played a role during the Democratic presidential primaries when Obama, Clinton and Edwards all refused to cross picket lines while the Hollywood guild was on strike. Edwards even visited one huge WGA rally. Obama was criticized for not attending.
What had gone on for the past six months inside Perry’s production company was kept secret by the WGA until October 2, when the guild filed charges of unfair labor practice with the NLRB, alleging that House of Payne unlawfully fired four writers in retaliation for their union activity. (A fifth writer quit in solidarity.)
The WGA also accused Perry’s company of bargaining in bad faith with the guild, which had been seeking to negotiate a contract covering the writers on Perry’s cable-television series House of Payne and the upcoming Meet the Browns. The four scribes, Kellie Griffin, Christopher Moore, Teri Brown-Jackson and Lamont Ferrell, are all African-Americans, and together have written more than 100 episodes of Payne.
A lawyer for Perry is claiming that the writers’ firings had nothing to do with contract negotiations but were related solely to “the quality of their work.” Perry also refused to agree to a WGA contract giving the writers health care benefits or pensions. He fired the writers after warning them to “be careful about pushing the WGA deal or you could be replaced,” according to one of the axed scribes.
But because Perry owns 100 percent of his films and TV productions, he can as an indie forgo a guild agreement. Now the WGA has told guild members, “Under Working Rule 8, members of the Writers Guild of America, West may not accept employment with any nonsignatory entity, including Tyler Perry Studios and all of its related entities. The guild intends to fully enforce this important policy.”
No mainstream media outlets — People, CNN — even mentioned the WGA protest outside the gala party at Tyler Perry Studios, a 60,000-square-foot production complex on 28 acres featuring a 300-seat screening room, three sound stages and a theater.
Shame on those who crossed the picket line to attend: Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Cicely Tyson, Louis Gossett Jr., Holly Robinson Peete, Tracey Edmonds, music mogul L.A. Reid, singer John Legend, baseball legends Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. Also, Mary J. Blige, Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, who all performed.
This is not the first alleged union buster to be a big Obama supporter. Most of the Hollywood CEOs and their wives are big fund-raisers, campaigners and supporters of Obama’s. Yet all the studios and networks have been working for the past 18 months to bust two of Hollywood’s highest-cost talent guilds. The WGA filed charges with the NLRB over Big Media’s refusal to negotiate during the writers strike.
And now another strike could be looming because the same employers won’t negotiate with the Screen Actors Guild, which belongs to the AFL-CIO. Which is why it took courage for SAG National Board member Anne-Marie Johnson to say this on the WGA Web site: “I realize that speaking publicly in support of the writers will jeopardize my recurring role, but Mr. Perry’s firing of writers for negotiating for fair WGA coverage, including health insurance, does not speak well for a man who claims to believe in family, pride in one’s race and artistic equality. It’s time he steps up to do the right thing.”