film review: tyler perry’s adaptation of shange’s, “for colored girls who considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf”

dear readers,

you have asked me for my take on the film, which grossed 20 million this opening weekend, so here goes. saturday night, brooklyn academy of music’s rose cinema house, it was a high heeled, fall evening, popping with anticipation for tyler perry’s adaptation of ntozake shange’s choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf.

the 9pm show was sold out and the audience boasted as many shades of brown as the oak leaves which now line the edges of brooklyn’s stoops and roads. there were a few men in the audience, on dates for sure. i was with a crew representing both african and indian diasporas, we ranged in age from early 20’s to late 50’s. late 50’s was on my right reciting lines. early 20’s, an out and proud queer black girl, was on my left cringing at the audience reaction to the hyper sexualized, down low brother, carl. i’m in the middle, taking in the layers, registering pockets of flatness, feeling witnessed as a colored girl who knows a little something about sexual violence, i am reminding myself to breathe and to get to the clinic, because it’s been a long time since someone talked to me about safe sex.

i’ve read up on the reviews of this film, and the word on the street is basic:

1. go see the film, i’m still thinking about it, motivated by it, days later. even if, at worst, it is a graceful nod to shange’s original breakthrough work, it is still a go-see film on the american cinematic landscape of chick flicks focused on shopping, and shopping. because in this film it’s black women talking about rape, incest, addiction, sisterhood, abortion, and it’s new york, and it’s love, even when it’s hate.

2. if you’ve been hating on perry, you still can if you want to. because in his adaptation, some shades of certain colors are sacrificed in the name of mass appeal over depth. he’s not one to make his audience work too hard, especially at key moments of trauma. for example, the babies out the window scene felt less compelling than the brilliant and tension ridden scene where kimberly elise (playing crystal) goes to get her man a drink of water instead of the alcohol he craves. the climactic moment of trauma was too packaged for me, but this was also true of perry’s adaptation, precious. why did whoopi goldberg’s character, the sanctified alice, play and serve as comedic relief throughout the film? this was aggravating, given her eldest daughter’s (played by thandie newton) relentless performance as the over-sexed and under self-loved, tangie. finally, it may be that perry’s own chittlin’ circuit era, drag status prompted him to do injustice to the gay/down-low male character.

there is so much to say about this film, but i will leave you with this for now. your comments are welcome.

more later,
roopa singh

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4 thoughts on “film review: tyler perry’s adaptation of shange’s, “for colored girls who considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I just read your post about for colored girls and I loved it, of course! But I can’t see the Tyler Perry version of this film. “For colored girls” changed my life, made me proud to be a black girl. Shange gave me a community and reminded me that God exist in each and everyone of us. I use to sleep with this book under my pillow when I was 15. In ’92 I saw mass media hating on women of color like never before. What affected me was how Anita Hill was treated and viewed by society. I felt like as a young black woman I would never be able to be good enough. I mean look at the Yale law educated woman being racked over the coals and asked what did she do to deserve the way that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas treated her. I felt disgusted and one day while at the library I stumbled across this book. Devoured it. Memorized it. Loved it and started to love myself in turn. Like you I was sexually abused and for the first time thought of actually forgiving him and letting ago of the anger. Side note: I did not actually forgive him until I was 27 yrs old, but the seed of forgiveness was planted. I found my collective of colored girls and knew that my experience was not an aberration.

    I can’t do Tyler Perry’s version. I have watched most of his Medea films and although I laugh and have a good time with them I don’t believe he has the necessary depth to film “colored girls.” For colored girls made me a better student. had me fall in love with language and allowed me to write out my pain. who the hell knows what would have happened to this colored girl without shange? i would probably be a very tortured woman.

    I love you, hermana and this love would not exist without “for colored girls.”

    • politicalpoet says:

      you are speaking on that shit sis. you know what’s funny (because if it wasn’t funny, it would be too sad), i almost edited out the part where you reference my experience with sexual violence. even though i share about it in classrooms, in prisons, on stages, in these virtual pages, i still feel so protective of my pain. like octavia butler’s empaths, we may feel we need to hide, and what’s real is, sometimes, we do. the epidemic of violence is so 4realz. anyway, i gotta get my hands on a copy of the original broadway show of shange’s choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf. enuf she says, enuf!! 🙂 more later, thanks for the comment.

  2. Sade says:

    Dear Readers, Dear Writer,

    Go be viewers.
    Watch it for yourselves with an open mind. If you’re brave enough, go see it by yourself. Or if you need a hand to hold, with another individual who has just an open eye as you are ready too.
    I think, the toughest part about getting through the story is the heavy hitting relatability it has to so many women of brown tones in skin (it explains the laughter in the crowd.)
    This is what what made me appreciate tyler a little bit more than with his other films. Sometimes, a story does need to be fed to the people; breaking down key elements and showing his viewers quite frankly, in the face, bluntly, what oh so many of us submerged in this community are often so apprehensive to see is good for us.

    At the end of the day you have to see something, to know whether or not it was worth seeing.

    the out and proud queer black girl on the left of the prof cringing.

  3. RellE. says:

    Love your review but honestly Roop, all i can think is the fact the Perry is a Playwright and not a screen writer. As i watched the film tonight I was constantly reminded of the fact that he consistently lacks the ability to use the beauty and the art of film to his full advantage. On the stage, what you see is what you get. You, as the audience, can take the time to focus on the words, plot and blocking because youre not really blogged down by cinematographic screen shots and light filters and the understanding that a pale screen with one prominent color has an added significance to the characters presented. But thats just it, thats the wonder of the world of film. Feeling the personal experience of the people portrayed on the silver screen in a way thats personal, transcendent even. Like while watching Requiem For a Dream Im just as tripped out as they are. I can feel how high they are. The desperation for the next hit. The mother’s want to get back to what she was and her despair at the thought that she might not make the cut.

    I was excited to see this movie even though I sometimes think of Perry as being as one note as M. Night Shyamalan. And in this case I wasnt too far off. It was a good movie in the sense that there were great actors that played their parts well. But good was insufficient for this work of art. There was no need to for a poemed monologue every 5-10 minutes, with a close up, and a tear. I wanted to be moved, jolted, thoughts provoked to the point of my own tears and reflection of self. But instead I got obvious plot twists with an overtly melodramatic story line with a little comedy thrown in to taste. I enjoyed the movie for what it was, a Tyler Perry Movie. And for some reason I was hoping for something a bit more riveting. My movie-mate said to me that Perry was simply appealing to his demographic, which might indeed be true. But thats moot to me. Im the demographic, Im the choir, but Im not the one that needs the message. This is the kind of thing that needs to have such a monumental impact that people who had no idea are touched to their core. The stories dont really speak specifically to only one race but the film, unfortunately, does.

    Maybe “For Colored Girls”, like “The Hulk” can be done by someone who can give it more of a well deserved punch.

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