For Colored Girls: A review

The For Colored Girls reinterpretation by Tyler Perry has seen countless analysis and criticisms. I even took the time to discuss the film after watching the original play. Click here to read that analysis. My original discussion was that this play should not have been recreated. I made this decision because after watching the original play, the level of frustration I encountered as a man watching a film obviously written for and by a Black woman at the height of the Black feminist literary movement, (Do not look up Black Literary Feminist Movement, this is something that I am working on to analyze the writing that was created in the late 60s to the early 80s by women like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara and obviously Ntozake Shange), was difficult to understand. In its original form the narrative has a clear, calm, powerful, poetic voice, that enhances the emotional attachment to the women who encounter different men who create their frustration and push them towards the thought of suicide. These women are also aware enough to understand that it is their own lack of power which generates the negative energy that promotes their inferiority and mistreatment. This duality existed in the original performance by an ensemble that included Alfre Woodard and Lynn Whitfield, due to their inspired performance. The actresses took a complex, jarring narrative and after watching the original, I knew I didn’t have any desire to see Tyler Perry’s film and my primary question was why this story, again, now?

I finally watched Perry’s version. Maybe it was the fact that I had experienced the original, maybe it was my attraction to this ensemble: Phylicia Rashad, Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Loretta Devine and Anika Noni Rose, that allowed me to watch a film that I knew would be difficult to experience. The interesting thing that happened though was that this film, was actually a well crafted less extreme version of the original. Well, about as ‘less extreme’ as abuse and murder can be. The first thing that created a different product is the inclusion of characters that gave men a voice, which did not occur in the original play. This voice is singular however and is almost drowned out by the inclusion of Omari Hardwick’s character. Hill Harper is an actor who does not have great range, but he exudes an air of credibilty. He seems to be genuinely a man of character. His addition allowed the male voice to be heard within the screams of these women who seem to be immersed in various levels of purgatory.
There wasn’t any happiness here. Which still led me to wonder, why this film? Are Black women no better off than they were in the early post Civil Rights movement? Is the Black experience easily summarized as a dark and twisted road controlled by Bigger Thomas’ treatment of women? Is this all that we are, pain? There is a scene in the film featuring Whoopi Goldberg (white) where she turns and looks at the camera before exiting the room. In her eyes, her stare is what can only be described in Ralph Ellison’s words “thems years.” Her eyes in that moment was a culmination of the unstable nature of being a woman who has to open her world to a stronger, more violent male dominated society. The camera moves towards her, her white garb ruffles and shifts as she holds her arms shoulder high in an almost circle, she drops into a squat and over her shoulder, her head turns and those eyes, unblinking, empty, yet filled with anger, despair, loneliness captures the whole of what can be percieved as Black womanhood.
Tyler Perry captured the pain of the original film, and I have to assume that it was more jarring for those who had not experienced the original, but there is no happiness in that or in this film, no levity. While the acting and camera work is beautiful, the question for me still remains: Why this film, why again, why now? Are Black women this sad, ovecome with the burden of Blackness that these are the stories that we still need to share?