For Colored Girls Who Sat Through The Film & Were Underwhelmed…

Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” his much-anticipated film adaptation of Ntozoke Shange’s choreopoem, opened in theatres Friday. Black women bought tickets in droves nation-wide sparking major discussion about sisterhood and trife-ling men throughout the weekend. I was skeptical for several months about Shange’s iconic play left in the hands of a Black male director, but was eager to support Black art, film, and the ensemble cast of Black actresses. Unfortunately…I was rather underwhelmed.

Many themes were blatantly obvious and shots unnecessary as Perry reflects that subtlety and character development aren’t his stronger skills. Centering the leading characters in and around an old apartment building in Harlem seemed like an attempt at spoon-feeding the audience correlations of the characters’ interconnected struggles. For two hours the monologues were acted in some close ratio to the building and even the closing scene on the rooftop was reminiscent of the “Women of Brewster Place.” Not an original film concept. There were moments, however, when the brilliance of Shange’s prose rang clear hitting on universal, Black womanly truths. Several cast members, gave standout performances that resonated well after leaving the theatre. Loretta Devine, Felicia Rashad, Thandie Newton, Macy Gray and newcomer *Tessa Thompson, all embodied the emotion of the original work yet delivered their monologues with fresh relatability. Their character experiences covered a myriad of life’s trials but two scenes brought me near tears due to the content and unfiltered talent of the actresses. The first was the abortion scene, with innocence and corruption played by Thompson and Gray. The second was Newton and Rashad’s generational warning around knowing one’s worth, exchanged in the hallway of the ratchet apartment building.

Melodrama, a reoccurring theme in Perry films, dominated the remaining scenes. One example is what would-be a climactic confrontation between “Lady in Red”/”Jo’s” character and her down-low husband that contracted and spread HIV to his wife. Jo’s (Jackson’s) flat monologue delivered seated on a bed with her back to her (felon?!) husband was painful to watch for all the wrong reasons. How did Janet manage to perform on a remedial acting level while in the company of some of the greatest actresses of our generation (Loretta Devine couldn’t offer a tutorial)? Another example, Anika Noni Rose’s tearful monologue post-rape, lacked authenticity as the entire rape scenario was shot choppy-style like a bad after school special complete with cheesy operatic background music. Kimberly Elise played the hell out of “weak-Black woman, tearful and depressed over her situation and family,”… but when hasn’t she played that exact same role?! Lady-in-Brown (Elise) cried just like Tisean in “Set It Off” (Elise). Yet another example was from one of the most memorable stories from the play, Beau Willie and the kids. Willie & (Elise) Brown’s dramatic scene played out in the middle of day, amidst a crowd of millions unable to assist-extremely unbelievable. Extremely. Also, the depiction of Black males in dominating and villanous roles (with the exception of Hill Harper) was expected from Perry, yet these were the times I yearned for Netflix and the ability to fast forward.

For those that loved the play and are familiar with the monologues (who doesn’t remember reciting yet not-fully grasping the content during High School drama class) like myself, you may view the film with a critical eye. However, the fact that Perry introduced the work to generations of new audiences that may have missed it otherwise, is worthy of cinematic celebration. Anytime talent of this magnitude and box office power combine to share OUR stories is awesome. Support a Black filmmaker! “For Colored Girls” was Vitamin D’s first #MMDD Event in Atlanta-movie viewing followed by late drinks and discussion. Special thanks to the ladies that attended, we had a GREAT time, and shout out to the ladies that politely responded via RSVP/email! *Air Kisses* There will be more events and I look forward to discussions in more Atlanta hot spots. What did you think of the film? Was it a Black film #classic or could you have waited for the Redbox release? Do share, and check the film for yourself! S

Peace,

Dawnavette

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About Dawnavette

A Modern Renaissance Woman passionate about writing, women's issues, race relations, pop culture and music.

Posted on November 9, 2010, in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’m not sure I can get over the pathologizing of gay male sexuality. But I agree that the work deserves to be experienced by new audiences.

  2. Thanks so much, Dawnavette, for this review. I love that you organized an event around the film showing and that you had discussion and drinks afterward! I came home and pushed out 2,000 words without even blinking and I have sooo much more to say, I’m chopping up my commentary to spread it around.

    Art is subjective and I did laugh about Kimberly Elise playing the same role over and over and over again. Don’t forget Diary of a Mad, Black Woman (also by Perry, which makes this choice even worse). Also, the inability of the ENTIRE community being unable to help is a consistent theme with Perry and others. We need to remember that… SMH.

    I, however, LOVED everything Anika Noni Rose did in this film and I thought the post-rape monologue was perfect, superbly acted and well-placed, especially after being questioned by the detective. But ditto on the other scenes you loved (I loved those as well).

    I think what I love the most is that we are able to have these conversations and have a central point to discuss this great art (and by great I mean Ntozake’s work. LOL).

    Sadly, Perry’s own issues always find their way into a work and as Ant-Intellect wrote above, I did find myself feeling a bit sad that gay men were depicted in that way; and, yet I know that slice of a person is out there as well. Still, I just tire of Perry pushing his own issues off on our narratives (and in our stories). I had no problem, though, with him incorporating HIV into the narrative.

    Thanks again, Sistagirl!

  3. WAIT for the DVD ~!!~

  4. Nice review, Dawnavette. I haven’t seen it yet, have heard many mixed reviews but most not unlike your own. I’m still debating. I’m a little over-tired (so, like REALLY tired??) of Tyler’s themes (I’ve never been able to sit through Daddy’s Little Girls). I may follow Melanie’s advice & wait for it to reach Netflix!

  5. This is a great review, Dawnette. Well played.

    Tyler Perry has a weird thing with directness in his films. He makes a lot of situations, feelings and emotions obvious instead of giving his audiences some room to be surprised, or time to put 2 and 2 together. While ‘For Colored Girls’ wasn’t that creative and was pretty painful to watch, I took from it the beautiful poetry from the play. And like you, the cast of brilliant black artists was something I definitely looked forward to watching (Thandie Newton did her thiiiiing).

    Let’s face it, though: Tyler Perry has not learned to deviate from these types of movies. He controls the action, controls the reaction from his audience and controls how Black people are portrayed, especially when it comes to gender specifications within the race. It’s his cup of tea, and we all are waiting for him to step up and change.

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