What might James Baldwin think of the works of Tyler Perry?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Already a successful playwright, Tyler Perry came to national attention with the 2005 release of Diary of a Mad Black Woman, based on his stage play of the same name. Perry has gone on to success and widespread acclaim; although his independently-produced films are considered niche and usually have a limited release, they are almost always profitable. Perry's films deal with African-American family life, usually in the American Midwest or South, and often have Christian themes.

James Baldwin was an author who wrote novels and plays about African-American cultural identity until 1987, when he died of stomach cancer. Baldwin was strongly associated with civil rights and racial equality, and he is considered one of the most important essayists in African-American literature.

Baldwin was concerned with the state of racial politics and racial and cultural barriers in America, and most of his writing reflected that. A continuing theme in his works was the trouble of integration into white society by non-usual minorities -- specifically, homosexual or bisexual blacks and whites. His focus on this aspect was one not often seen at the time.

Since Tyler Perry's films tend to focus on family life and, specifically, marital problems, he has not written much about sexual issues. His films are instead similar to other slapstick or romantic comedies, but with a focus on African-Americans in the starring position instead of the typical white characters. Baldwin, therefore, might see Perry's work as a singular facet of integration into society; Perry is making the sort of films that "white Hollywood" has been making for years, but with blacks in the driver's seat. This in itself shows how far cultural acceptance has come. However, Baldwin would probably also criticize Perry for ignoring sexual, political, and cultural themes in favor of standard narratives. Baldwin would probably not reject Perry, but he would certainly ask for more depth in his own areas of interest.

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