Saturday, November 06, 2010
Thoughts About For Colored Girls
*Disclaimer* this is not a review of the film. These are my thoughts about the film and Tyler Perry's involvement.
For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuff is an Obie award winning choreopoem by Ntozake Shange about black female identity. First performed in Coffee houses over 35 years ago, it is hailed as a landmark of American feminist theater. The play is a collection of 20 poems delivered by seven nameless women represented by the colors of the rainbow (yellow, blue, orange, red, purple, brown and green.) The production was 78 minutes of emotional purging presented on a bare stage, with choreographed monologues addressing issues like love, abandonment, rape, abortion, domestic violence and motherhood, all from a feminist and African-American perspective. The defining poetry and sparseness in staging made the presentation of the soliloquies powerful. The end of the play brought all women together for a “laying on of hands” which evoked the power of womanhood.
When the news broke that Tyler Perry was adapting Ntozake Shange’s transcendent work to the big screen as writer and director, I and others shouted a collective WTF? I immediately thought that TP’s approach to filmmaking was too simplistic and underwhelming and his adaptation would not match Shange’s emotional dexterity. Also, he has never resisted the temptation to characterize his female leads as victims in his films, (Some of his films send the message that all women need is the church and a good man and all their problems will disappear.) How dare he attempt to turn a groundbreaking and radical work into one of his suffocating melodramas? This is surely his bid for cinematic respectability but why couldn’t he ruin somebody else’s work? I was afraid that Perry’s minimalistic and micro waved approach to script writing and script analysis would take the heart out of Shange’s lucid and fluid language.
Guess what? A brother was wrong.
For Colored Girls is good, really good. Perry’s adaptation stands on its own because I could feel that he cared about the original play so much that he made certain to represent it properly on screen and he added some additional characters, altering some elements that separate the film from its original text. I won’t get into the changed elements to heavy as not to spoil some of the new twists and nuances that weren’t in the original play, but added nicely to the existing text. One added character is Gilda, (played by the incomparable Phylicia Rashad) the wise and matriarchal building manager who adds a much needed cohesion to hold the story together in film format.
The cast was stellar and gave a pulse to Shange’s illuminated musings. Loretta Devine is humorously gullible. Anika Noni Rose is tragically courageous. Kimberly Elise is fantastically heartbreaking. Thandie Newton is blissfully afflicted. Macy Gray is wonderfully spooky and Phylicia Rashad is a revelation. Janet Jackson (much better than in previous films), Kerry Washington (cute but meh’) and Whoopi Goldberg (to over the top) were just okay.
The actors, Michael Ealy ( convincingly conflicted) Hill Harper (typically solid) and Khalil Kain (unexpectedly menacing) all played their roles well but were there to compliment the women’s performances.
Some men will be offended by the harsh portrayal of males in the film and accuse Perry of male bashing once again. But if men objectively examine the pathology of the characters in the film they represent brothers that you may know either in your neighborhood or even in your family, all the males with the exception of the rapist had real true to life issues that face black men on a daily basis.
The central theme of the movie was about black women confronting the truth and being allowed to feel anger, sadness, sorrow and grief without being looked at as pathetic, as bitches and as victims but just human. I think a lot of the negative reviews the film has received come from people’s prejudice of Tyler Perry, if that’s not the case, I really can’t call it, because I didn’t see a bad movie, I saw a movie about black women "finding God in themselves and loving themselves fiercely" thru the pain, disappointments and tragedies. That’s what I saw.
I am an analytical guy, so I approached the viewing of this film like it was Tyler Perry’s feature film debut. I didn’t want to judge him based on his previous works; I wanted to judge this film on its own merits. That approach worked because I laughed, felt mournful, was appalled, felt exhausted, was captivated and felt the rawness of human emotion in a two hour time frame. There was some melodrama and it wasn’t perfect, but what movie is perfect? (Either you like it or you don’t), it shouldn’t be judged based on who the director is. With this film, Perry proved that his cinematic vision is expanding and he is capable of producing respectable work.
Side note: Even if you didn’t like the film consider this: Tyler Perry should get props for having the resources to bring Shange’s seminal work to the screen, and more than likely, it wouldn’t have been made if he didn’t do it. I hope this is a new direction that he is going in, because I look forward to seeing other beloved black books and plays coming to the big screen like “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “Dark by Kenji Jasper”, Octavia Butler’s “Kindred”, “Top Dog/Underdog” by Suzan Lori-Parks and August Wilson’s “Fences”. Tyler Perry's great work with For Colored Girls shows that with a love and reverence of the source material black art can be produced beautifully on screen.