- Racial Equity
- Talk About Race
Tyler Perry’s recent film For Colored Girls, based on the “choreo-poem” written by Ntozake Shange, explores the poetic, theatrical and existential aspects of living in the world as a woman of colour. Shange’s play, whose full title is “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”, was first staged in 1974 as a work-in-progress. In its filmic manifestation, the play has now reached full acclaim, having been viewed by millions.
The characters are seven women who go by a spectrum of colors (“Lady in Red,” “Lady in Blue,” “Lady in Green,” and so on) and recite tales and tribulations about their lives as women. What goes dim in this otherwise vibrant melange of poignant stories acted by an array of strong African-American actresses (including Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, and Thandie Newton) is that these women’s lives revolve primarily around men. It seems, for a larger part of the film, that these women can only come to terms with themselves by coming to terms with the men in their lives. As a result, the film struggles to retain its original vital and empowering feminist message, much to the dismay of viewers looking for a more holistic life lesson.
Thankfully, there is a still a strong political message to this film’s conscious decision to tease out the various aspects of the victimization of women, precisely because these women fight against being victims at all costs. There is no “place” for these Black women, only a spectrum of possibilities yet to be realized.
The poetry that weaves through the script, taken from Shange’s original text, add wisdom (though at times seemingly a forced wisdom) to the play, and make up for the dreary landscapes of verbal and physical abuse that paint a painful backdrop to the lives portrayed. From the heartbreaking story of Crystal (Kimberly Elise), whose abusive alcoholic husband refuses to get help, or Nyla (Tessa Thompson), who undergoes a teenage pregnancy and subsequent abortion, it is apparent that being both Black and a woman means fighting against multiple odds.
The strength of the film comes from its ability to deal with a variety of touchy and taboo subjects: rape, murder, abortion, addiction. Suddenly, the set of personal, disparate accounts attributed to the women individually become part of a single discourse, a single voice, using cinematic twists and turns to bring the women together into a single narrative. As such, every woman can relate to some aspect of For Colored Girls. It is, of course, a special gift for women who, to paraphrase a line of the original play, have come to understand race as a metaphysical dilemma yet to be conquered. Yet, so too will justice be served, and these women have come to us to prove it, and spark some of the most important conversations on race and gender relations ever to be seen on the big screen.