‘For Colored Girls, please for goodness sake do not be another Diary Of A Mad Black Woman,’ I thought on the train ride down to the movie theater where I was meeting up with almost 40 other women to see Tyler Perry’s adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking, powerful call-to-arms for Black women “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.” I can say, with relief, FCG is TP’s best work and much better than Diary. At times though the suffering of the girls in FCG resembled pathology more than just the pain and heartbreak of this specific group of women. Like seriously how many times is TP going to have Kimberly Elise dragged across a floor by a Black man? For Colored Girls is no Boyz In The Hood, but its no Booty Call either. Due to racism, sexism, capitalism and a lack of positive, personable portrayals of Black women, sometimes it’s hard to watch Black folk suffer and in pain and tore da fruck up without reading it as pathology; without thinking and feeling that this on-screen drama defines our off screen real lives.
For Colored Girls, for goodness sake please give us something we can feel.
The TP haters were definitely in the house, or more specifically, in our collective and in no mood for his usual melodramatic antics. Not even 30 minutes into the film the heckling started: “I’m so sick of Tyler Perry and his sh*t,” one woman yelled out while another said, “Lawd, this is so sickening. I don’t think I’m going to make it through to the end.” There were equal amounts of drama on the screen as there were in our theater, for better or for worse. I admit that over-the-top opera scene juxtaposed against the horrific rape scene and burning chops was nauseating, but my wooziness was eased a great deal by the brilliant performances of the ensemble cast especially Loretta Devine, Macy Gray, Anika Noni Rose and Thandie Newton. As I watched the movie I tried to both forget and remember Shange’s original. I read the book in high school and during my sophomore year of college I snagged the deliciously, rambunctious role of the Lady in Orange. Needless to say, there were times in the movie when I was transported back to that stage production with Shange’s words bare and un-adapted for us to consume and engage like when Loretta Devine’s Juanita (aka the Lady in Green) says “goodbye” and when Macy Gray declares “I live in Harlem now.”
But there were other times like when Janet Jackson’s Jo (Lady in Red) spoke to her ‘down-low’ hubby about infecting her with HIV/AIDS, that I felt TP’s Madea coming home to roost. That cough and that atrocious dialogue (“you getting bent over now”) made a mockery of homosexuality, of homophobia and of AIDS. I thought the Oprah interview with Terry McMillan and her ex was kuhrazy, but Tyler Perry took it a notch lower with back alley clichés, dramatic side eyeing and his Devil Wears Fashion Fair homage. I was also uncomfortable when Phylicia Rashad who plays Gilda, a den mother of sorts, told Kimberly Elise’s Crystal (Lady in Brown) that she had to take some responsibility for the murder of her children. Huh? In my real colored girl life, women like Gilda would have been organizing a way for homeboy to get shanked on the inside. I got downright pissed, however, when during our discussion one of the ladies, Jennifer, enlightened us that in the book, Lady in Brown, leaves her husband and that the babies are thrown out the window as a response to that act of independence NOT some dang chauffer-driven town car. Tyler Perry’s lack of imagination is one thing, but I take offense to him manipulating texts in order to punish Black women for being strong and courageous. On Oprah he introduced his aunt who inspired the Madea character. She is a flesh and bones, gun-toting, no lip-taking, fierce Black women who saved his mom (her sister) on more than one occasion from his abusive father. It is ironic, sad, just trifling that when given an opportunity to honor the defiant spirit of his aunt without cross-dressing, TP stumbles and instead wags an incriminating finger.
For Colored Girls, for goodness sake why do the brothers have to be buffoons? My biggest shakedown of FCG is the one-dimensional, superficial, stereotypical, spiritless, gutless depictions of Black men. Male privilege is very real for colored and non-colored girls alike, but a rapist, an adulterer, an alcoholic, a molester all with no back-story and no backbone was just too much. I feel like TP in FCG is telling Black women to be strong cuz Black men ain’t sh*t. Be empowered because being married is a bitch. We should be strong and empowered because discrimination in the workplace is worse now than ever, because of lousy healthcare and public schools, because of harassment that we get from Black, white and Latino men on the street. The men in Shange’s work were silent shadows and they had more resonance than the monsters in TP’s movie.
Colored girls today have been exposed to way more images of Black life, love and loss today than they were in 1975. So even though I crave to see myself on the big-screen, it’s not life-defining for me. I’ve seen Eve’s Bayou, Daughters of The Dust, Love Jones and The Secret Life of Bees. I’ve bought magazines with Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Roshumba on the cover. And now I have Michelle Obama as the First Lady in the White House. Iyanla Vanzant said once, “we begin to adjust our lives to the deficiency we see around us.” So I watch movies like I used to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches back in the day. I would take the crust off and just eat the slice of bread smeared with jelly. I totally enjoyed the acting in For Colored Girls minus a few exceptions. I inhaled Juanita’s rich chocolate skin and rum-raisened lips, Tangie’s cafe au lait arms and Whoopi’s eboned face just glowed in her all white attire. I also loved seeing Black women helping each other when they couldn’t help themselves. When Gilda put the ice pack on Tangie’s face and Tangie touched her fingers that moment was supreme for me. In the face of Real Housewives of Atlanta, America’s Next Top Model, and Basketball Wives where every episode revolves around Black women fighting each other, throwing drinks at one another, snapping, dissing and as Coral from The Real World once declared, “beating bitches down,” FCG offered another perspective. It reminded Black women that we are and can be intimate, supportive and loving of other Black women and that there is power in that. However, unlike Shange’s choreopoems where friendship and sisterhood soared beyond redemption to loud-mouth liberation, the sisterly love of the movie version is satisfied with a chicken noodle soup for the soul, hand-holding, Kumbaya type of love, which is fine sometimes, but not all the time in all matters.
When The Rainbow Is Enuf. This for me always read as a new thought in Shange’s title. It was an extension of the aforementioned consideration of suicide, but this revelation stood alone because it could. When the rainbow is enuf is revolutionary. When Black women, heck Black people, stop needing validation from mainstream society; when our beauty and our selves are joy enough then, whoo chile, what a day of rejoicing that will be. Unfortunately Tyler Perry
didn’t get this couldn’t get this (I know how the movie industry operates and Hollywood ain’t trying to have us on no Black power ish especially since that currently means Box Office suicide like when Rosewood and Booty Call opened the same weekend many years back and BC made almost three times more money than Rosewood. That kinda changed what was green lit from that weekend forward. The dismal numbers for Bees and Bayou prove this fact too). That’s right it’s all about the big ole pot of gold at the end of the rainbow nowadays. Eff your Technicolored meteorological illusions! Folk wanna get paid, send their kids to college, pay that mortgage, pay their annual WGA and SAG dues, wanna buy a Range Rover and Louboutins. And by folk I mean Tyler Perry, Ntozake Shange, Nzingha Stewart (the original director for FCG), Kimberly Elise, Kerry Washington, Hill Harper, et. al, and many of us reading this. Rainbows fade, but gold, like diamonds, well that’s forever, right? I’m not a fan of Tyler Perry, but all of this ranting about he sold his soul to the devil is juvenile. It’s like being mad at the snake cuz it shot its venom at you and not being outraged at the snake charmer. Be clear, Hollywood likes controlled freaks not control freaks. So of course it’s so apt that the Lady in Orange isn’t even orange in the movie version, she’s tangerine (Tangie) and her sexual freedom is muted and bound here and there. This is American cinema. If Hollywood suits can turn Carrie Bradshaw’s sexual fierceness into a middle-eastern mince pie mess of cultural mockery and sexual tomfoolery what the hell do you think they are going to do to Black women?
If like me you believe in rainbows I urge you to read the book and see the movie so you can be apart of the conversation and not just a “part” of the convo. If you still can’t bare to buy a movie ticket then please for goodness sake use your $10, 12 or 14 and make a contribution to support the IFC, Imagenation, NBPC, UrbanWorld and other platforms that support indie Black film.