Home > Uncategorized > I’m Not Hatin’ On For Colored Girls The Movie

I’m Not Hatin’ On For Colored Girls The Movie

Having recently viewed Tyler Perry’s movie adaptation, I’m sitting here with my autographed copy of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, the “choreopoem” written some 36 years ago by Ntozake Shange. I’m fondly reliving those times I watched the play performed on stage from college theaters to Broadway productions. For that reason, I’m appreciative of the film version For Colored Girls. Is the movie as good as the play? No. But most film adaptations are rarely as good as the book~just ask diehard Twilight readers who hate that film franchise, the difference being they don’t hate the filmmaker. Transitioning the stage play to the movie screen was going to be an even greater challenge in Perry’s case since the original work was really a mix of poetry, dance and drama.

I’m not hatin’ on Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls. It is not a feel good film but it does have its feel good moments. I loved hearing Loretta Divine (Juanita) recite “no assistance” and “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff,” two of my favorites. Divine is surrounded by a multi-generational talented line-up of black actresses: Kimberly Elise (Crystal), Whoopi Goldberg (Alice), Janet Jackson (Jo), Thandie Newton (Tangie), Phylicia Rashad (Gilda), Anika Noni Rose (Yassmine), Kerry Washington (Kelly) and newcomer Tessa Thompson (Nyla). These actresses gave remarkable performances.

Most vicious reviews about the movie have more to do with people hatin’ on Tyler Perry. If you hate TP you will hate this film and if you like TP you will like this film—that seems to be how critics and African American audiences choose to rate this movie. To point out a few flaws in the movie whether it is the transitions or dialogue outside of Shange’s poems, that’s okay. To say Perry massacred, mangled, or minimized a classic literary work or that the film creates homophobic hysteria, Oh how melodramatic is that.

When black women are the central characters of a film, there always seems be a great deal of concern about whether black men are portrayed enough in a positive light. I never see black men, or black women to some degree, getting riled up or taking great offense about how black women are portrayed in music videos and songs. Doesn’t matter if the artist is Usher or Lil’ Wayne, from R&B to Hip Hop to Rap, the main theme is “I saw this woman with a fine tight body, nice breasts, popping booty and I want to hit that no matter if it’s in the bathroom of a club or some hotel, especially after lots of shots of Patron.”  The music industry has relegated black women to being a sexy good lay.

Not to mention that many black female singers cry the blues about ‘being done wrong by some man’ (especially now Fantasia with her married man saga). But I guess it serves a higher purpose to bash Perry. And if he is a closeted gay man, his coming out would not get the same warm reception received by someone who was hidden for years like Ricky Martin. No, Perry would get nailed to the cross by the media, black church community and a black gay and lesbian contingent who would stand idly by, watching and whispering  “crucify him”; we never liked his movies anyway.”

Shange’s play is about overcoming pain and diversity rooted in the thorny field of romantic relationships. It was dark events in her own life, including suicide attempts after a failed marriage, that inspired her create For Colored Girls. She turned her poetry into a dramatic narrative about love, betrayal, loss, deceit, resilience and sisterhood. Shange gave Perry her blessing to create the film adaptation, the two sitting down to discuss do’s and don’t’s~like no Madea allowed on the set. I was interested in knowing her thoughts post film release. I came across a current interview, “For Colored Girls Author Finds Few Flaws In Film Version,” which includes Shange’s message to black men about the film.  In her own words, Tyler Perry did as well as to be expected. “To him who is given much, much is expected.”

For Colored Girls the movie has conventional plots and nine main female characters, which Shange’s original work did not have. Seven performers were referred to as “The Lady” in brown, red, yellow, purple, green, blue and orange. The female characters in Perry’s film come to embody the colors which represent moods (white was newly added). First staged in 1974, For Colored Girls was considered a feminist work. Shange’s collection of 20 poems speaks to issues of domestic violence, rape, incest, abortion, sexuality, spirituality, and heartbreak as does the film. These are themes that resonate with most of Perry’s films in addition to messages about self-love, rediscovery and redemption.

The play is a 70s throwback. In some ways the movie still sounds like a period piece even though Perry tried to update it by having the women live in modern day Harlem. Perry’s integration of Shange’s poetry with traditional dialogue and narrative flows seamless in most scenes but feels forced in some areas. There are moments of splendor as the actresses shine during the transitions when they recite Shange’s poetry.

The male characters mainly serve as the backdrop for the female characters. But the women in the movie are just as flawed as the men, in fact, the women are more tragic. There is one good man, a loving husband in the film. There also is a “down-low” husband who has sex with men and gives his wife HIV. That part did make me cringe a little because it feeds into a stereotype. But I won’t overreact by stating that inherently makes the movie anti-gay.

The drunkard black female abortionist~ am I not supposed to view her as being no-account? The pious, Bible-touting, fanatic mother, what an angelic woman? A married man has an affair with a woman who knows he has a wife. He can’t decide between the two who to be with. Why is he a bad guy and not the mistress? Why am I supposed to feel sorry for her when he goes back to his wife? The nice black guy turns out to be a rapist. Shange’s poem “latent rapists” talks about date rape. Did that character need to go out with someone white or Asian to make black audiences feel better about that scene? Perry did not invent the most violent and psychologically disturbed male in the film, Beau Willy—he is a dark force in Shange’s original work.

The end of the play brings together all of the women for “a laying on of hands,” in which Shange evokes the power of womanhood as the Lady in Red begins the mantra “I found God in myself & I loved her/I loved her fiercely.” Perry recreates this exchange with all the women assembled together on a rooftop. As with the play, the message of the movie is sisterhood and triumph out of victimhood.

There is controversial talk of For Colored Girls getting Oscar nominations. Good. Two thumbs up. If No Country for Old Men can win an Academy Award for best film, Halle Berry can win best actress for her role in Monster’s Ball and 3 Six Mafia can win for best song It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp, then the movie and the performances by the actresses in For Colored Girls are worthy contenders for an Oscar bid and win. Despite his multimillion dollar mogul status, Perry is still treated like an outsider in Hollywood (as are most African American filmmakers). His works catering to black audiences would not get produced had he not financed his own production company.  He was bold enough to turn this play into a film, like it or not.

For Colored Girls the movie exposes a new generation to its legacy. Shange has said that she hopes the film increases her readership. I echo that sentiment.

~Carolyn M. Brown

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