Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thoughts On "For Colored Girls"

Spoiler Alert

On Friday I went to see For Colored Girls with my best friend.  I have since bought the play but have yet found time to read it.  Let me first say, that this is the best movie ever made by Tyler Perry, but that is not saying much, since his biggest claim to fame is producing genderized minstrel shows.  I have on many occasions referred to him as the king of coonery and buffoonery.  There has been much criticism of the movie thus far, but Ntozake Shange who wrote the play For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf on which the movie For Colored Girls is based had this to say:
I think all the actresses performed remarkably well. I hate to name anybody, because it's an ensemble cast. It's so difficult to pick one out as outstanding without picking the other, and so I'd have to say, all the actresses did stellar work. I think Tyler directed them well, because there were very few flaws I could find in the acting, so that's his work and their work.
 When asked if she agreed with the reviews which claimed that Perry cheapened her work, she responded with the following:
I haven't seen those people in 20 years. I don't know who those people are, they don't know me. I don't know who those people are. It cheapened, darling my work used to be for free. I used to do these poems by myself with a drummer or a tamboura player, or with a piano player, any kind of music player I could get. We would do it outside on a corner, and we would make art in the street, and people would throw things at us like coins. One time I had a group I was with called The Mushara Brothers and they gave me a tambourine, and I used to hop around with a tambourine to get our change for the night. One night we made $2.57 that's all we made, and we had to divide it between the three of us. 
I have to say that I enjoyed the movie and found myself nodding my head, though I don't understand several of the decisions that Perry made.  He felt the need to update the play, but he chose to do so in a way that is harmful to same gender loving people by including a character that contracted HIV from her husband who was living a life on the downlow.  Perry willfully decided to magnify a social myth and it is extremely harmful.  GLAAD has repeatedly attacked this in the media and I am surprised that they have not addressed this.  This myth presents gay men as diseased individuals who are deceptive and harmful to Black women.  Infidelity happens for many reasons and to claim that Black gay men are the sole cause of the the spread of HIV in the Black community, is based squarely in homophobia.  There are plenty of straight men that have no problem cheating on their spouses. When the husband was confronted, he could not admit that he was a gay man and instead simply referred to himself as a man who likes having sex with other men.  In another context, this might be acceptable, because bisexual men are a part of our communities; however, Perry did not intend to validate the sexuality of bisexual men in this movie.  His intent was to debase a gay identity.
The down low attack was further emphasized during a scene in which one of the women was being raped and it kept flashing back to Janet Jackson catching her cheating husband looking at man.  Perry was literally comparing date rape with infidelity.  I will certainly agree that infidelity is a violation of trust, but it falls into a completely different category than rape.  The fact that this appeared in the movie is clearly a failing of Perry and made me feel that this would not have happened with a female director.  The down low storyline was particularly jarring as an update when one realizes that he decided to keep an illicit abortion in the movie.  How is it that he can update the movie to include a mendacious homophobic myth like the down low but not update the movie to recognize the passing of the crucial legislation Roe v Wade?
I was also troubled by a following scene in which the rape victim discovers that her rapist was dead. She stood before his dead body for a moment and then slapped him across the face.  This scene should have been far from funny and yet in two audiences it inspired laughter.  At first I thought maybe this was a reflection of the rape culture that is so pervasive, but with further thought on the issue, I realized that her physical violence against her rapist was done in a manner that inspired laughter.  There was no passion to her strike.  In fact there was no real emotion as she looked at the man who had violated her so deeply.

Throughout the movie it was always obvious to me which voice was speaking.  The times when it flowed the best it was clear that the actresses were speaking lines written by Ntozake Shange.  Perry has never been able to write a Black female character that was believable or in the least bit moving. When the actresses were working with the original material, it moved me.  The long soliloquies drew me in and touched me deeply.  I found myself identifying with these women and hearing this story at times like it were my own.

I think that For Colored Girls is worth the time and effort to see.  I know it is difficult to support any work done by Tyler Perry but I think that if we want more movies made that cater to a Black audience that are not Blaxsploitation  flicks we should see this movie.  If nothing else, seeing this movie supports the work of Black women and each actress with the exception of Janet Jackson did a stellar job. 

Have you seen colored girls and if not do you plan to, why or why not?  What were your thoughts about the movie?  What did you like or dislike the most?
Editors Note:  Apparently I made a mistake by assuming that the the down low character is an addition of Tyler Perry's.  I was just informed via twitter that this addition was the work of Ntozake Shange.  Apparently this appears in a new version of the play that she is doing in a few months.  My apologies for the inaccuracies in this piece.