updated 10/09/2009 AT 1:50 PM ET
•originally published 10/10/2009 AT 6:45 PM ET
When Tyler Perry recently revealed a harrowing list of childhood traumas in a letter to his fans on his Web site, it seemed a necessary, if painful, confession for a man known more for his sense of humor.
Perry’s revelations follow in the path of those made by one of his key inspirations – Oprah Winfrey.
After suffering depression and attempting suicide as a teenager, Perry was working an office job in 1991 when he saw an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show that would change his life. In it, Winfrey – who early in her career revealed she was verbally and physically abused by relatives – talked about how writing down one’s experiences could be cathartic.
“After I found a dictionary and looked up “cathartic,” I realized what she was saying, so I started writing,” Perry told PEOPLE in 2004. What followed was a tough road to success, with years of financial strain and a struggle to be noticed before finding an audience for his original theatrical productions.
Becoming a Movie Mogul
Now, Perry is one of the most successful directors in Hollywood. His movies, produced on small budgets, frequently top the weekend box office charts, and his increased success has enabled him to work with actresses such as Angela Bassett and Taraji P. Henson and the musician Mary J. Blige.
But Perry never got to work with Winfrey, the woman who served as an early inspiration to him, until this year when they both fell in love with the same movie.
Precious, inspired by the book Push by Sapphire, is unlike Perry’s typical projects. It tells the story of Precious (played by Gabourey Sidibe), an overweight, illiterate African-American teenager who is constantly maligned by her mother (played by Mo’Nique) and sexually abused by her father. The film, which also stars Mariah Carey, is already generating Oscar buzz.
Perry and Winfrey both saw the movie independently and called each other to discuss it, before contacting the film’s director, Lee Daniels, to see how they could help. Eventually, Perry and Winfrey became executive producers on the film and are now leading a promotional push.
The movie has special meaning for both Perry and Winfrey, who said of the film’s issues, “The story of abuse in our community and in many communities is still a taboo subject.”
. Now, Perry and Winfrey are working together on a project they hope will bring inspiration to thousands of girls just like Precious.