Monday, October 06, 2008

The Opening of Perry Studios Prompts Some Old Questions

The opening of the Tyler Perry Studios here in Atlanta reminds me of the central debate during the Harlem Renaissance of “Art vs. Propaganda,” and how among black readers and writers, there is still a bit of a conflict surrounding what some think is real literature and “urban fiction”. During the Harlem Renaissance, “a flowering of black culture which included literature, music, painting, sculpture and politics,” there was much discussion of what African Americans should project in their art and literature. The W.E.B. DuBois camp (which included the likes of James Weldon Johnson) felt that “all art is propaganda,” and should reflect the best part of our community and uplift the race (see "Criteria of Negro Art"). The Alain Locke camp (which included Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston) believed that we “must choose art and put aside propaganda,” and “choose the role of” not only “group expression,” but “free individualistic expression” as well. We’ve all heard about Richard Wright’s discontent with Zora Neale Hurston’s (and James Baldwin’s) work. He criticized her and Baldwin for not dealing with race or “the Negro problem” in their work.

So in 2008, as writers and readers, what should we be dealing with? Some might argue that during the Renaissance, when Negros were becoming new (see "The New Negro " by Alain Locke), there was a need to portray an image of ourselves that we could hold before the world as proof of our competence and desire to live equally among the human race, (mostly white America). Some might say that we shouldn’t air our dirty laundry, or show the ugly side of black life, (even today, when you’d think that the Oprah’s, Condoleezza’s and the Baracks would be proof enough of our possibilities).

I think that we are still becoming new; not so much to the world as to ourselves. And while I don’t have a problem with Omar Tyree or Zane getting paid to do what they do, I’m hoping that in my lifetime, black writers who are motivated by a true desire to master the craft of writing, building a strong literary foundation, and adhering to the standards of traditional, classic literature will encourage readers to elevate their reading expectations and experience through their work. [And, while I am more likely to see an August Wilson play than any production starring “Medea,” I applaud Perry for his determination, his success, and on being the first to build a black-owned and operated film empire.]

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At 7:25 PM , Blogger Negritude said...

Lately I have been thinking more about Harold Cruse's contentions in _The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual_ that the cultural front is a critical arena in African-American and global politics. I do not think that contemporary black writers (most mainstream black artists and black leaders for that matter) pay much attention to the significance of culture/cultural politics ... The question of location is also important. Is the renaissance going to happen in Atlanta? It does not appear to be an easy question to answer considering the direction of the arts at present ... Laughing, smiling, and dancing, histrionic complexes in the wost sense?

At 5:06 AM , Blogger persistence said...

Of course I'd love for a renaissance to happen in Atlanta! I'd love to be part of it; I'd like to believe that it is already happening, at least in the minds of potential "literaturist". (Did I just coin a new word?) Unfortunately, I think disciples of Perry, Karinne Steffans, Eric Jerome Dickey and the like, view literary success in terms of dollars. As long as people are getting paid for those "histrionic complexes," by society’s standards, it's all good. Unlike the DuBois camp or the Locke camp, it is unfortunate that we cannot set a standard for ourselves, that is honest, beautiful and uplifting.

At 8:01 AM , Blogger auzelle said...

Yo, I read this article in the NY Times, which you should check out:

Also, on a side note, I'm stoked about your blog--it's actually something I'll probably read.

At 8:49 AM , Blogger persistence said...

Thanks sis, welcome to my space.

At 5:57 AM , Blogger steadfastandpurposed said...

A writer from the Atlanta area wrote an op-ed piece for the NYTimes entitled, "Their Eyes Were Reading Smut." (
While he is indeed intelligent and can write, his article is loaded with hateration. Sure, Black folk have allowed their literature and arts standards to fall to unspeakably low levels. But at least we are reading, rapping, rhyming, writing--keeping our story alive!

It saddens me that no one writes on the same level that Langston, Zora, or James did. Neither Beyonce, Keisha (she works my last nerve) nor Ne-yo can NOT sing with same depth as Gladys, Patti, or Donny (can you imagine one of them trying to remake "Me & Mrs. Jones" or "What You Won't Do For Love"?). But it is ALL our faults (readers and writers), for letting things slip.

And while I cringe every time the Wayans come out with a movie (God help us!), I am glad that they are working black people (and not breaking into my house) and they served tremendous laughs via "In Living Color," crass as it may have been. Plus, ILC presented Jamie Foxx, who would later take our breathe away with his portrayal of Ray Charles; a nice trade off, I would say...


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