Guest Commentary by Victor Burt
First let me begin by saying what this is not:
- A dis to Mr. Perry’s movie For Colored Girls.
- An attempt to rationalize men’s pre-existing notions about previous Perry productions.
- An in-depth historical/chronological critique of cinema, African-American achievements, etc
If this is what brought you to this article you may stop reading post-haste. I will not think the less of you 😉
I’m going to try and keep this as short and sweet as I can. (For all other inquiries please refer to Kevin Powell’s comprehensive review of the movie. Please be advised you’ll need 17 hours of down time, 3 espressos and 2 8-balls of coke … thanks Pito 😉 ) Overall I thought the movie was good, but not great and I give it a 7 on a 10-point scale. Here is why:
- There are some awesome performances. Coming in first, Ms. Kimberly Elise. Second, Ms. Phylicia Rashad. Third, (believe it or not) Macy Gray. Fourth, a close tie between Anika Noni Rose. Fifth place Thandi Newton.
- Everyone else played an emotion and not a character.
- This movie had as much tears as Passion of the Christ had blood. I’ve seen Shange’s play several times and I don’t remember that much crying in any of the performances. I mean, damn. I once had an acting teacher who said, “If great acting simply meant shedding tears than the world would be filled with Academy Award winners.”
- This is a movie that, despite people’s reaction’s (be they positive or negative), needed to be made. These are not only the stories of “colored women,” but of women all over the world.
- Sometimes a movie cannot only bring about discussion, but change. Take, for example, Cry Freedom, a film about South African apartheid starring Denzel Washington. One-third of the way through the movie Steven Biko (played by Denzel) dies. The remaining 100 minutes is about a white newspaper editor (played by Kevin Kline) and his family attempting to leave the country in order to publish a book about Biko. Considering the complexities of apartheid, South African social relations and the widespread violence, sweeping across the country, the least important storyline that the film could have focused on was a well-to-do family’s difficulties fleeing the country (as well meaning as they were). However, we must remember that this movie was made in 1987; the process to abolish apartheid didn’t officially began until 1991. Sometimes a medium is needed to raise awareness and consciousness concerning a topic/issue/phenomenon that might otherwise go unnoticed. For Colored Girls has that kind of power. Admittedly, it may not necessarily usher in change, but if it has the creative fortitude to produce discourse among people then it may have accomplished its mission.
- Yet again Tyler Perry has proven that he does not know how to write male roles. Perry and T.D. Jakes have the market cornered on the broken black woman who rises despite the blows that life has dealt her. (I’m still waiting for them to collaborate and make Woman Thou Art Madea!) What I want to know is when they plan to write a script that offers as many dimensions and layers to the men? Every man in For Colored Girls echoed variations of the same 4-6-word phrases:
“C’mon baby, I love you.”
“Baby you know I need you.”
“I’m trying my best … baby.”
“Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout Willis?”
In fact, the only time a male character had a voice in the movie was Carl (played by Omari Hardwick). After being caught in a ‘down-low’ relationship, he offered a compelling monologue to his wife, Jo (played by Janet Jackson), in which defended his manhood. I found it interesting that T. Perry gave this particular character the most voice … coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge.
- Finally … and I’m going to go on record and say that this shouldn’t (necessarily) be a strike, but the audience made this movie very difficult to enjoy. Every movie allows you the opportunity to get your “Oooohs” and “Aaaaahhhs” out. Other than that … and I’ll say it … we as a people … both rich and poor … dark-skinned and light … skinny and fat … sexually proficient and sexually inept … WE NEED TO SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LET PEOPLE HAVE THEIR OWN MOVIE-WATCHING EXPERIENCE!!!!! NOT YOURS!!!!!! G-DAMNIT!!!!!!! Now that I’ve gotten that off my soon-to-be-bulging chest, who do I blame for this travesty? Ahem.
- Tyler Perry. Mr. Perry, coming from the gospel-play tradition, has learned … nay, mastered the art of garnishing a response from the audience. He has literally conditioned his audiences, not only how, but when to respond to his antics. The opening scene in the film begins with a scantily clad, muscle-bound man climbing out of the bed after having a one-night stand with Thandie Newton’s character. *Enter women* “Ooooooooohhhhhhhh … Daaammmmmmnnn Girl … Dat’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!” All I’m saying is be bigger than stereotypical expectations. Let’s be respectable moviegoers with hints of hood hubris.
- Us. We (as a community of Africans in the Diaspora) are responsible. We’ve all made (what we thought to be) hysterical jokes about serious moments in black drama. Honestly, who hasn’t referenced a line in The Color Purple to drive in a punch line?
“Oh, Miss Celie, I feels like singing!”
“You sho’ is ugly.”
This only perpetuates our proclivity to make light of critical moments in the human experience and dulls our sensitivities for the future.
To his credit, Tyler Perry does a remarkable job of weaving the heightened language of Ntozake Shange with modern syntax. He should be commended for his effort and not condemned for his shortcomings. Less we forget, it wasn’t too long ago that we longed for movies that showed us as more than thugs, drug dealers and prostitutes (ex. Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society, etc.). Now we have the wherewithal to complain while we watch black folks function as chiefs of industries?! I actually believe that we are simultaneously maturing as much as a people and film-going audience as Perry is as a director, producer and writer. In that light, perhaps we should afford Perry the same latitude of grace and expectancy that we would want people to provide for us.
I will, nonetheless, admit that as a man some of the poetry was lost and even came across as, and please don’t misunderstand me, ‘woman banter’. My chauvinism notwithstanding, to the men like myself who have problems digesting this material, I offer the following bit of advice from Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) to Crystal (Kimberly Elise): “You have to take responsibility for some of this. Now how much [responsibility] you take is on you. But you gotta take some of it.” Given that the majority of us (meaning men) have done a bang up job securing and reinforcing the negative stereotypes women have of us, our first order of business in nurturing the next generation of future mothers might just be to analyze our roles: What role have you (meaning YOU, my brother) played in driving women to such extreme measures?
For Colored Girls doesn’t offer a prescription to the problems that face women, but it does provide a platform for us, as a society, to engage as active participants in the creation of the egalitarian society we claim to want for our sons and daughters.