Tyler Perry has built an entertainment empire. He owns one of the largest independently operated studios churning out content today, and he's one of the richest people in showbiz.

But he had to start somewhere.

Fifteen years ago, Perry wrote, produced and starred in his first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, about Helen, a housewife who has an emotional and spiritual awakening after her husband of 18 years unceremoniously leaves her for another woman. She's aided in her recovery by a diary in which she chronicles her deepest feelings—and by her fiery, wisecracking granny, Madea, who helps Helen calculate her self-worth. Literally, at one point.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman also marked the first appearance in a movie by Madea, played by a heavily made-up Perry in a fat suit, wig and glasses. The character was an instant hit with audiences, if not always critics, and a slew of Madea-centric movies followed.

But this one started it all, and though it may have been a no-brainer later, not everyone was angling to make a movie with Perry—or his outspoken alter ego—at first. Here's how the film, the success of which played a significant role in the future greenlighting of more movies featuring black casts and telling these contemporary slice-of-life stories, got made:

Tyler Perry, 2005

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Madea - Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Tyler Perry, Aunt Mayola, Mother Willie Maxine Perry

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Tyler Perry - Diary of a Mad Black Woman

BET Films/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com

Tyler Perry - Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Kimberly Elise - Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Steve Harris, Kimberly Elise - Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Steve Harris - Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Blair Underwood, Taraji P. Henson - Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Tyler Perry, Kimberly Elise, Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Cicely Tyson - Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Diary of a Mad Black Woman

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Madea kept making movies up until last year, when she ostensibly made her final appearance, in A Madea Family Funeral, after director-writer-producer-star Perry—whose acting portfolio has expanded to include the likes of Gone Girl and Vice—finally felt that he had said all he needed to say through the filter of the now iconic character.

But since the funeral wasn't hers—and heck, even if it was—the door is open for a Madea return if it turns out she's needed.

Which, going by precedent, will probably be the case at some point.

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