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Box Office Surprise?

Box office champ: Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? (Lions Gate)

This past weekend Hollywood rolled out the first wave of its Fall Oscar hopefuls -- Michael Clayton, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, We Own the Night. But big stars such as George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix proved to have little drawing power compared to Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? Perry's film, whose most recognizable star is Janet Jackson, came out on top at the box office this past weekend with a gross of more than $20 million, which is nearly twice what its nearest competitor pulled in. While the big Hollywood studios may be scratching their heads, Lions Gate, the distributor of Perry's film, is smiling all the way to the bank. The indy company picked up Perry's direct-to-video movies, and released his first theatrical feature Diary of a Mad Black Woman in 2005. That film took everyone by surprise by scoring big at the box office. But what mainstream -- mostly white, mostly male run -- Hollywood didn't understand was that Perry (as a writer, director and actor) has gained fame and fortune on the urban theater circuit, building a large and loyal African American following, an audience that mainstream Hollywood rarely caters to directly. Perry, on the other hand, knows the community to which he's aiming his various works and has accumulated hit after hit, first on stage and now on the big screen. He also has a TV series on TBS entitled House of Payne. Perry's approach mixes comedy with concerns for issues that he feels strongly about, including religion and especially notions of faith and forgiveness. He's also created the hilarious persona of Aunt Madea, whom he himself plays with great enthusiasm. So here's to a bucking the system. Whether you like the films Perry makes or not, you have to admit, he displays a successful independent spirit and proves that you can make the kind of films you want if you develop the right strategy.

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