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November 15, 2010
Kartina Richardson

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide… When They Saw Tyler Perry’s Adaptation

For Colored Girls was good.

No it wasn’t good.

Well maybe it was good.

But it wasn’t good enough.

For people unfamiliar with Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play, it might have seemed good. Spectacular even. It’s a rarity. A drama about black women addressing rape, abortion, incest, and domestic abuse, allowing black actresses opportunity to flex their tear ducts.

Many women unfamiliar with the play will adore it. Perry has given screen time to issues that are rarely discussed, reaching a wider and more diverse audience than Shange’s play alone might ever see. A generation of girls will hear what the movie has to say and that is important… but,

But

It could have been so much more. And that is the problem. Yes it’s a black film about black women, but hoopla over a rarity’s very existence can blind folks to its mediocrity. Perry’s movie is plasticized. Dumbed down. Bullshitted up.

As Lady in green says:

“Somebody almost walked off wid all my stuff”

In this case it was Tyler Perry.

Colored girls deserve better than this soulless and simplistic adaptation. Our stories should be told in a real way, the way the ladies in blue, yellow, red, brown, purple, and green, share them. Colored girls deserve more than this. All girls deserve more than this. And that’s the whole point of the damn play.

Shange gave black girls a voice. Ask any lady her first impressions of the play and the response will be passionate. Small words and small feelings will not do. Words of any size may not do at all. Something has found a route into your gut. It’s double checked the darkest corners, gathered up all that’s there, and pushed it up. It spells it out for you.

“I usedta live in the world now I live in Harlem and my universe is six blocks.”

These characters demanded to be heard. Recognized in words and rhythm and movement and music. In the magic world the play exists in, something had come to a head. Things would not be contained any longer. Seven ladies were going to tell you about it. You were going to listen.

But Perry’s film has none of that energy. It does not crackle.

Its first problem is a simple one: It’s directed by a man.

(Now wait a minute. Let me explain)

I have done the math:

For women reading Shange’s play 86% of the power and importance of the work is derived from its intimacy: Our awareness that these stories are from, with, about, to, and by women. Women talking to each other, in the presence of one another, about their lives. It is all woman. So as soon as the work is “by” a man it loses some of its impact. The film cannot be divorced from the context of “A Tyler Perry Production”.

This isn’t at all to say a man couldn’t direct an excellent version of the work. I don’t believe that in order to relate to a narrative you must have experienced it for yourself. Personal experience though important, does not always equal great profundity or even insight. But from the beginning For Colored Girls was a production contained within a male controlled, literally directed, framework. This compromising of power might become negligible in an otherwise excellent adaptation. It might be worth it in exchange for brilliance.

But this was not brilliance.

The movie is doomed from the opening titles (font choices say so much).

Paul Hall, one of the movie’s producers, has touted the film’s “1970’s European feel“. That is certainly reaching. And reaching. And reaching.

The film wants desperately to be taken seriously as an artistic endeavor. When a film’s grasping for respect is the first thing you notice, you’re in for a horrible ride.

This is illustrated well in a ridiculous scene where Anika Noni Rose’s brutal rape is cross cut with shots of Janet Jackson’s character at the Opera. As Rose is raped she watches the clock. As Rose is raped, Jackson watches the opera. A single tear falls down her cheek a la Cher at La Boheme in Moonstruck. What was meant as a dramatic and symbolic zinger robs the moment of its real power. The woman is being raped. Show the rape. Show her face. You don’t need to emphasize it by juxtaposing it with anything, let alone the superfluous Janet Jackson character.

Though all the actors did their best, Macy Gray and Phylicia Rashad’s performances were the strongest. They managed to blend their monologues into the flow of the film, while other deliveries were jarring. And this is Perry’s biggest failure.

He awkwardly attempts to force Shange’s series of poem/monologues into a conventional narrative.

The rhythm and flow of the play is an integral part of the work. As important as each and every word. Maybe more important. This rhythm however, is missing in the picture, a sign of Perry’s very literal approach to a choreopoem that like any poem, is about rhythm and feeling. You feel it first and understand it next. It could have been done, with sound, camera movement, editing etc. but Perry created a film with commercial flow and pacing. The unique rhythm of Shange’s play remains only in the monologues. When these are performed they feel false, clumsy and out of place. Like clapping off beat.

You see, Shange and Perry are listening to two very different songs.

Let’s imagine it’s “Strange Fruit”

This is Shange’s version:

This is Perry’s:

This is what Perry and Hollywood think we want. This is what they think we can relate to.

We could’ve heard Billie Holiday. Even Nina Simone.

Instead we heard Common featuring John Legend produced by Kanye West.

The problem is not what the film is. It is what it could have been and why it wasn’t.

Doesn’t that make you angry?

It should.

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12 Comments

  1. Kartina,

    Thank you so very much for telling why Perry’s film failed to capture the true essence of the poems/monologues so brilliantly executed in the written form by Shange.

    Reply
  2. great point with the ‘Strange Fruit’ video line-up! the film really could have been sooo much more. great site!

    Reply
  3. the best review i’ve read thus far, and ive read tons. you hit the nail right on the head. thank you Katrina!

    Reply
  4. This is a ridiculous bashing of a really good film. You suggest we see the entire rape?? Why? Havent black women had enough trauma in our lives without having to see a brutal rape of one of us on the big screen. We can’t even get a leading man to love us on the big screen and you want to see one raping us graphically? Youve got a lot to learn about black women. I loved the film and so did most of my A A female friends. You dont speak for all black women.

    Reply
    • Kartina Richardson

      Does a review in support of the film “speak for all black women?” I suggest a portrayal of the rape because it is real and needs to be addressed. Rape is something many black women, all kinds of women have been victims of. The trauma and violence of it should be explored in a real way. A way that shows it for what it is. A way that doesn’t hide it. Not a false, melodramatic style that turns half way away from the issue in an attempt to be artistic. It is this very shying away from tragic and violent truths that’s the problem. I am happy for you to disagree with me Angela, but in the future keep this ridiculous “you’ve got a lot to learn about black women” tone off my page.

      Reply
    • You missed it Dear (Angela). Re read the article and be more thoughtful this time. Put on your thinking cap and give them to your friends, for I am sure you share with your circle, the same narrow-mindness. Of course, they think like you. Open up your circle, at least in dialogue and before you read it again, give yourself space to see the picture at large… the possibility!

      With love,
      Chicky

      Reply
  5. The comparison of those two videos is startling. I find the pop sanitization of such a furious, tragic, and rebellious sentiment rather offensive.

    Reply
  6. Thank you for a very insightful review. It does make me angry. It is always the time to do better and present better proposals of what life lessons have taught us. When this is attempted half heartedly and on a covenient creative whim it is disgustingly embarrassing, because many will look to it to provide a window into another version of life choices and interactions gaining foggy view and half filled outlines. I do hope that this film inspires the re-reading of “For Colored Girls”, and clever candid conversation. Bliss.

    Reply
  7. I thank you for your perspective. I was trying to put my finger on it but you nailed it on the head! i had an “aha” moment as i read your blog. Great points to think about. The play, in my opinion, evokes so much more energy, and passion than the movie. yes, it was good, but it could’ve been EPIC!!!!

    Reply
  8. hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

    Just from reading the title.

    I will come back with more words after reading the actual review. If I live that long. No, I’m not considering suicide, just anticipating a lethal laughing fit.

    Reply
  9. Get ‘em Kartina.

    Reply
  10. I have encouraged many of my family members and friends to see the movie, but I have also cautioned them that IT IS NOT a great, or a very good, film. It is the story (the original play) and the acting that made me stay in my seat; rather than walk out of the theatre after the first 20 minutes. I recommend the movie because it inspires reflection and discussion among black people and black women in particular. However, as a happily married black female with a professional career, I could not identify much with the story. In fact, I found myself disbelieving that the sum of the story remains true today.

    Tyler Perry NEVER should have been given the green light to direct this film, but I appreciate his effort. I also agree with the master of this blog that the film should have been directed by a woman – preferably a black woman. After spending nearly 2 hours on the telephone with my sister discussing the film and ALL of its faults, she and I agree that if a not so good film such as this can inspire such dialogue and conversation then it should be seen.

    Last note, my father was reluctant to see the film because he was told that it portrays black men very poorly. I reasured my father that it portrays CERTAIN TYPES of black men, but that the characters did not represent all black men. I did not see any of my past relationships or my father in any of these characters. So, again, the movie (and its original play) tells the story of a microcosym rather than the populous of our black communities, black families, and the relationships between black men and women.

    Reply

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