It was just like one of those inspiring Tyler Perry movie scenes when a believer does the right thing and helps a struggler have a come-to-Jesus epiphany.

Perry was walking to his car after some Los Angeles production work when he was approached by homeless woman.

“I wish I had time to talk about judgment,” said Tyler, after receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award during the 93rd Academy Awards. “Anyway, I reach in my pocket and I’m about to give her the money and 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,” he said. “So, I took her into the studio. ... We’re standing there (in) wardrobe and we find her these shoes and I help her put them on. I’m waiting for her to look up and all this time she’s looking down. She finally looks up and she’s got tears in her eyes. She says: ‘Thank you, Jesus. My feet are off the ground.’”

Perry, of course, is a movie mogul who has built a 330-acre studio facility in Atlanta used for all kinds of work, including parts of the Marvel epic “Black Panther.” He has created many profitable films of this own, such as “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “The Family That Preys” and “Madea’s Family Reunion,” part of a series in which Perry, in drag, plays a pistol-packing, Bible-quoting matriarch at the heart of Black family melodramas.

It was logical for Perry to receive the Jean Hersholt award, in part because of his rags-to-riches life and his efforts to help churches and nonprofits reach the needy. At the same time, it’s unlikely that he could ever win a regular Oscar statue, since critics and Hollywood elites have long mocked his movies as soapy parables crafted to appeal to ordinary church folks.


Thus, Perry’s sermonette was an unusual twist in an Oscar rite packed with political messages and wins by films that few American moviegoers saw or even knew existed. Ratings for the broadcast plunged to a record low of 9.85 million viewers, which was 58% lower than the 2020 low of 23.6 million viewers. In comparison, the 1998 Oscars — with the blockbuster “Titanic” — drew 57.25 million viewers.

Perry pushed his critics even further with a punchy reference to America’s culture wars. While discussing his mother’s life in the “Jim Crow South in Louisiana,” he described how she came home in tears after a bomb threat at the Jewish community day care center where she worked. No matter what, he added, she “taught me to refuse hate” and to “refuse blanket judgment.”

That’s a hard message to hear, he said, in the age of the “internet and social media and algorithms and everything that wants us to think a certain way.

“I refuse to hate someone because they’re Mexican or because they are Black or white, or LGBTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they’re a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian. I would hope that we would refuse hate,” he said.

Thus, Perry said he would dedicate his award to those willing to “stand in the middle because 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 help lift someone’s feet off the ground, this one is for you, too. God bless you.”

Terry Mattingly leads GetReligion.org.