Tuesday, November 9, 2010

For Colored Girls...

I read the Ntozake Shange play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf" in college so I was very interested to hear that TP Studios was doing a big screen adaptation of "For Colored Girls".  The movie has been met with both praise and criticism, but overall has been receiving positive reviews...well at least from the colored girls. But why?  I admit that when I first heard the Tyler Perry was taking on this play, I shuddered. I've never seen the play on stage and was a bit confused as to how the choreopoem would be portrayed in film.  The night before I saw the movie, I reread the play to see how true Perry would stay to Shange's vision. Though I am not quite ready to sing Tyler Perry's praises, I do commend him for incorporating Shange's monologues in to the movie in a way that was, for the most part, seamless.  There were holes, of course there were, but that seems to be the trend in Hollywood today, interesting plot, great actors, very little character development.

I would like to believe, after seeing "For Colored Girls", that the movie title not only pays homage to the choreopoem's original author but is also somewhat discretionary.  The movie is indeed for colored girls.  This is not to say that uncolored girls or colored boys should not see the movie, because I believe that it is worth watching by all genders and all races, I am simply advising that if you go to see the movie, buy your popcorn and icee, and sit down expecting to see a riveting tale of vagueness and generality, you will be disappointed.  The movie provides a glimpse, albeit narrow, of the plight of 8 "colored girls" in New York, Harlem to be exact.  There were originally only 7 girls, one representing each color of the rainbow (with indigo replaced with brown).  Perry added an additional character, the Lady in White played by Whoopi Goldberg and connected her to the movie as the mother of the Lady in Orange (Thandie Newton).  I will not go into detail as to how their relationship manifests so to not ruin the movie for people who haven't seen it but I will say that while his attempt was admirable, he fell short in connecting her character to the rest of the "colors" in the movie.  I neither understood nor believed her character, and while Whoopi did a fantastic job in playing the role as it was given, I questioned the soundness of her character's presence.

A lot of the lack of character development in the movie was most likely due to 1. An obvious time restraint (the movie was 2 hours and he managed to fit in almost all of the monologues from the book, 2. An apprehension to paint these women too vividly (Shange excelled in making us see these women as 3-dimensional characters all while not sharing their whole story), and 3. A lack of know-how (though TP is an extremely talented director/producer, his writing skills do fall short when it comes to developing a character that is true to life).  Yet, I still applaud his effort.  We all knew he'd be crucified for this movie, but, he did it anyway.  I think it was brave to bring Shange's play to life in this way.  Though he may not have been spot on, he didn't do it an injustice, Shange herself has been promoting the movie since its inception (Interview with the author).

As far as the criticism that the movie bashes males (Courtland Milloy in his Washington Post review jokingly renamed the movie "For black men who have considered homicide after watching another Tyler Perry movie")  I say, you're right.  It is male bashing, but rightfully so. The movie sheds light on the types of men that deserved to be bashed, not all men.  Perry added Hill Harper's character to give a bit of respite to the men who may have felt that the movie needed a positive male presence.  However, a man of Harper's character's caliber you will not find within the pages of the original play and this was intentional.  

This story needed to be told in all its shame and splendor.  People needed to hear these women's tales of abuse, rape and betrayal just as much as they needed to laugh at Perry's cross-dressing, gun-slinging Madea.  Uncolored male media will try to make "For Colored Girls" out to be a sullen misrepresentation of the plight of Black women, but I disagree.  Black women ARE raped by men they know, Black women ARE lied to and cheated on, Black women ARE victims of physical abuse, Black women DO sometimes use promiscuity as a cover up to try and hide pain and reproach from childhood molestation. None of this was made up.  People know it happens, but it hasn't been addressed on the big screen in a long time, and wouldn't have received as much attention if it remained in the somewhat obscure halls of the theatrical stage.  

Coming away from the movie, I can't necessarily say that I was as lifted as Tyler Perry claimed that audiences would be, but there is a moral to this story.  In the words of Ntozake Shange herself, "The lesson is don't beat and hurt women. Don't lie to us. Don't get us pregnant and leave us in an alley. Don't pretend you're coming for dinner when you're coming to make love. There's a whole lot of lessons in there for young black men. There's a whole lot they could do. They need to take a notepad with them to the movie, and write down I can't do that no more, oh I can't do that more, oh I can't do that more. And see how many pieces of paper they have when they leave, if they were honest. You should have a truth session."  

The lesson I learned came a couple of days later once I realized that I myself could easily end up like the lady in brown or the lady in green if I didn't open my eyes to clearly see the nature of the relationships that I allowed myself to be in.  The victim here is not always women, but complacent women.  Women that allow themselves to be overtaken by a need to have men in their lives.  Maybe men is not the correct word; ghouls is a more fitting term.  Ghouls, shells of the men that they once were or fragments of the men that they wanted to/needed to be.  Not every character in the movie is guilty of this, but the women with the most dramatic stories in the movie bear this burden.  So ladies, before you let someone walk off with all your stuff, ask yourself if what he's giving is enuf.

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