Slaying Perry's "For Colored Girls"

{ exclusive feature}

It's a rumble royal with all the opinions on For Colored Girls. Representing the "Tyler Perry hates black men" corner, Courtland Milloy threw some heaters at Tyler Perry last week:

"Even preacher T.D. Jakes is coming out with his own copycat wedding movie next year... Surely Spike Lee and Denzel Washington could team up for a sweeping historical drama - say, a black sharecropper's son, educated in a one-room schoolhouse built by slaves in Alabama, who grows up to become one of Wall Street's most powerful CEOs... So where is the movie "For White Girls," bashing white men?... All right already, I confess: Black men hate black women... Why? Because Tyler Perry said so... [One reader dismissed] altogether, the impact of the nation's most enduring and racially oppressive criminal enterprise: slavery. You want to air dirty laundry? Start with that."

Below, Latasha Webb presents for The Liberator a finer, more nuanced critique of Tyler Perry's film. She focuses on the literary differences between Ntozake Shange's original story and Perry's version, and less on the villainization of black men than on the problems with Perry's hyper-victimization of black women at the expense of a narrative originally about self-empowerment.

Slaying Perry's "For Colored Girls"
by Latasha A. Webb (Guest Contributor, The Liberator Magazine)

The cast was amazing. Aside from some awkward moments from Janet Jackson, they really did the best they could with a terrible script. The first awkward moment came within the first 10 minutes or so, as Nyla/Purple (Tessa Thompson) went from a present-day teenager in dance class, to Broadway actress shoved onto the wrong stage.

She launched into lady in yellow’s monologue (Perry doesn’t stick to Ntozake Shange’s color characters at all.), “it was graduation nite & I waz the only virgin in the crowd...” And on and on she went as the girls around her smiled blankly as though listening, but gave zero input. Perry never lets the characters complete the entire piece as written by Shange, yet even still the characters seem to ramble with no verbal response from the others around them. Shoved into modern-day scenes, this is awkward and unbelievable.

Little did I know, almost all of Ntozake Shange’s original monologues would be disturbingly and haphazardly shoved into random scenes throughout the film, and assigned to arbitrary characters. It comes across though Tyler Perry made the film he wanted to make, remembered he was supposed to have been remaking Shange’s play, and then went back and shoved a few of her monologues into already completed scenes. It happens again, when Kelly/Blue goes on a date with a man who is so obviously a creep, the audience was groaning in annoyance that she doesn’t see it (because nothing Perry does can ever, EVER be subtle). They sit at the table sipping wine when suddenly, she launches into a monologue about dancing with a cute, black Puerto Rican one night. It made no sense in the scene and it lasts until they hit her doorstep, with the rapist smiling at her lustfully and she staring stupidly at the sky as she rambles on. Think Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, as Dorothy wanders down the yellow brick road singing/talking and sort of daydreaming. Yeah, it was like that. Very cinema circa 1940.

One of the better and more believable performances belonged to Macy Gray, who isn’t formally assigned a color (according to IMDB) but performs a lady in blue monologue while preparing to give Nyla/Purple an almost lethal botched abortion. Loretta Devine is great as usual, but her soft and sometimes whiney voice doesn’t do lady in green’s monologue justice. “Somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff” is meant to be a powerful point of realization, which Devine attempted, but didn’t reach. Instead, she comes across a bit too teary, a bit too weapy, which brings me to my last and most important point.

Perry’s characters were brought to tears in just about every scene. And there was not a tissue in the film. Snot running down some woman’s face was key to 9/10 scenes (who’s counting?). And that, is the last straw. Perry missed the whole point. The original play was about black girls taking control over our own destinies, taking our power back when times are hard and facing fears in strength. It was about black women finding God in themselves and being that strength for one another when it’s needed. Perry’s film was about victims. His film was about how black women are abused and hurt by black men no matter what they do. Not one of the women in the film had any real control over her own destiny. They had all been stripped of it by some evil man they had once trusted. It saddens me that young black girls will see this film and identify with that idea of victimization, instead of what Shange intended, that they read the play and feel acknowledged and empowered to take control of their own lives. And that is the most insulting and tragic mistake Perry made.