For Colored Girls Who Need Motivation When the Oprah Endorsement Ain’t Enough

For Colored Girls Who Need Motivation When the Oprah Endorsement Ain’t Enough

Bassey Ikpi
 The Huffington Post
Nigerian born poet/writer, mental health advocate.
Posted: November 4, 2010 10:38 AM
Full disclosure: Like most women my age (late 20s- mid 30s), I am highly protective of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. I’ve read it several times, and my original copy with the girl who looks like India.Arie looking forlorn into the middle distance in a yellow outfit is all tattered and dog-eared. Some passages are highlighted while others have “YES, GIRL!” scribbled around circled phrases. I’ve memorized the opening poem and have performed Lady In Red’s iconic monologue “Beau Willie Brown” in my shows. I’ve tried to direct and produce the play twice — once in college and once just a few short years ago. (Both times, the man shut us down! Or my legendary lack of focus and inexperience as a director made the projects dissolve. Whatever. Details.) My point is that I love this play. I love it. I love Ntozake Shange’s words and the way she depicted black womanhood in color and texture and built these stories for women to identify and find themselves in. The first time I read it, I was too young to really connect with the stories on a personal level; but as a woman, as a colored girl, I understood the tragedy and the joy that encased these women. These women that were all of us and none of us at the same time. These women who were everyone and nobody all at once. Did I mention how much I love this play?

So when I got word that it was being turned into a movie, I was ecstatic! I pictured Nzinga Stewart behind the camera. Or maybe even Kasi Lemmons. Oh! Maybe Oprah would direct it! I nearly passed out at the thought. And then I heard Tyler Perry was behind The Colored Girls wheel. My first thought: “Tyler Perry who? And write what? It’s already been written.” Then, “I just know they mean some other Tyler Perry. Like, Tyler Perry Morrison-Jackson, a first time female director who just graduated from NYU and was blessed with the opportunity.” Yes… I made up an entire person named Tyler Perry because I refused to believe that the man who gave us Madea was also going to give me Lady in Brown. 
I refused.
I was in denial for months.
I jumped on every single article and gossip blind item that even remotely suggested that it was all rumor or that Tyler Perry was only going to produce the movie and not direct or — God help us — “write” the film. But as the days grew longer and the possibility of Tyler Perry Morrison-Jackson, NYU graduate, directing grew even slimmer, I heard the man himself, Tyler Perry, discussing his casting choices. I heard Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey and passed clean out before I could hear anything else. Janet Jackson? Don’t get me wrong, I love Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty. I adore her as an entertainer. Her acting, well, let’s just say she enunciates really well. And Mariah Carey? Now, Glitter is one of my favorite movies. It is awesome for all the wrong reasons. And Mariah didn’t suck in Precious so that’s something I guess. But, um was there a Lady in Rainbow Unicorn Glitter that I forgot about? I needed somebody to help me understand. Thankfully, Mariah Carey dropped out because she’s pregnant. The rest of the cast is outstanding. Phylicia Rashad, Loretta Divine, Thandi Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington and Anika Noni Rose. I adore these women. I’m not a huge fan of Kimberly Elise but if you need someone to be distraught and cry their eyes out in tragic horror, well… she’s your girl.

The cast gave me some hope but Tyler Perry still frightened me. You have to understand, for those of us who love the play and are familiar with Perry’s work, his hamfisted, bash you over the head style of directing isn’t necessary for the nuance and subtle beauty that is Shange’s work. Shange’s play is all about the things and events that connect us as women of color. Perry’s work is often so full of MESSAGES that the audience never gets a chance to have their own ‘a-ha’ moments. I’m going to see the movie on Friday but if you’re like me, and need to prepare yourself, I’ve come up with five ways to proceed:

1. Watch every single Tyler Perry movie before this one. All of them, from Diary of A Mad Black Woman to Madea Saves Christmas. This way, you’ll be familiar with all of Perry’s work and there will be no surprises. And then remember that For Colored Girls will be better than any of those movies. It has to be.

2. Don’t read Ntozake Shange’s play before you see the movie. This is not her play. This is something else. Something different. You know how Starbursts have real fruit juice in them but it isn’t fruit? Think of For Colored Girls as Starbursts and FCGWHCSWRiE as fruit. This makes sense, trust me.

3. Go with friends. Go with as many friends as you can round up. Sit in the same row. Hold hands. Say a quick prayer and just lean on the person next to you when the melodrama ain’t enough.

4. Remember that it could be worse. He could have cast himself as Lady in Wig. Madea could have been in this movie. She is not. This is good news.

5. Though I’m still hesitant, I do know that Tyler Perry is a marketing genius. If this is successful, maybe — just maybe — more movies that tell our stories in better ways can be made. Maybe, if this is successful, Tyler Perry will understand the need for black women to tell their own stories and start putting his billions of dollars into producing and assisting female directors creating meaningful, smart projects. If this is successful, this is a real possibility.

Or he will make For Colored Girls II: Still Colored and Sad

Somebody took all their stuff: The New and Old Colored Girls

Somebody took all their stuff: The New and Old Colored Girls

Somebody took all their stuff
By Peter Howell
Movie Critic
“Being coloured is a metaphysical dilemma,” a character says in For Colored Girls, and the thought follows that maybe Tyler Perry got this difficult stage-to-screen adaptation half right.

The writer/director behind the exceedingly broad comedy of the Madea franchise approaches the hit 1970s Ntozake Shange play with a pragmatism that succeeds in form but not in function.

A playwright himself, Perry has solved the metaphysical dilemma of what to do with a unique performance piece, originally titled For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, that debuted in 1974 in a California coffee house.

The play was 20 narrative poems (a collective “choreopoem”) declaimed by seven actresses, each of them assigned a rainbow colour (it was the Seventies, after all). Observations and agitations were made about abortion, infidelity, promiscuity, date rape and self identity.

This wouldn’t work in a movie — not a mainstream one, at any rate — so admirer Perry sensibly provides the structure of a Harlem tenement house, which is presided over by watchful new character Gilda (Phylicia Rashad, superb).

Flowing into and around this building are those seven rainbow characters, played by a strong cast: Thandie Newton (Tangie/Orange); Janet Jackson (Jo/Red); Whoopi Goldberg (Alice/White); Anika Noni Rose (Yasmine/Yellow); Loretta Devine (Juanita/Green); Kimberly Elise (Crystal/Brown) and Kerry Washington (Kelly/Blue).

Perry adds a few more characters, notably male ones, and he handles the play’s poetry like the slams of the 1990s, allowing figures to simply throw down rhymes as the mood strikes and the narrative allows.

So far, so smart, and we can forgive the outdated “coloured” reference on the grounds of historical accuracy.

But Perry’s house comes tumbling down when the winds of misguided political correctness blow through. His vision of black women — and remember that he plays one in his Madea role — is almost entirely negative. As Marshall McLuhan might have observed, Perry gets the medium right, but not the message.
To be black and female in For Colored Girls is to be a victim of unending misery, and the cause of that misery is invariably black males.

One unhappy lady is promiscuous because her daddy abused her, and her lovers aren’t much better. Another is threatened by her psychotic ex-soldier boyfriend, and so are her children. An unwanted pregnancy (and botched abortion) threatens the life of one woman; another’s cheating husband results in a terrifying doctor’s report. And so it goes
In his obviously sincere desire to identify with and support black women, Perry neglects the equally urgent need to celebrate them and their achievements. A hokey “Kumbaya”-style gathering on a rooftop doesn’t cut it.

Is it really necessary to depict black men in such uniformly awful terms? In Perry’s skewed view, they’re all cheaters, rapists, murderers and general losers, and even the dead don’t escape his wrath. One woman blames her lousy mothering skills on the lack of a proper inheritance from her late grandfather. The one remotely decent guy in the film is insinuated to be lacking in something because he can’t get his woman pregnant.
Shange’s play was never this downbeat. By the time Devine’s social worker character Juanita wails the famous line “Somebody took all my stuff,” you begin to think the same about what Perry did to Shange.

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