When the Rainbow Falls Apart: Tyler Perry’s Misinterpretation of Triumph

*SPOILER ALERT*

I am not a movie critic, but I am going to play one today.

On Monday, before I went to the cinema to see Tyler Perry’s For  Colored Girls, I read, again, Ntozake  Shange’s For Colored Girls  who have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. I walked around my house, book in one hand, and pretend  microphone in the other, and I read aloud the section about an eight-year-old girl who falls in love with Toussaint L’Ouverture. With tears in my eyes, I read the section about a young woman who, after doing all she can do to keep a dangerous ex-boyfriend away from her children, watches him drop them from a fifth-story window. I stood in front of the mirror to read the section about a woman who reclaims her soul after realizing that she has given too much of herself to a man who does not and cannot love her.

When I closed the book and headed to the cinema, I was full of hope and feelings of triumph because Shange had indeed  “explored the realities of seven different kinds of women…the women were to be nameless & assume hegemony as dictated by the fullness of their lives.” (Shange, p.xii) After seeing Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, I felt deflated. Maimed. Disappointed. Misunderstood.

Tyler Perry butchered For Colored Girls.

Surprise? Actually, yes.  I am one of those people who has wanted  to believe that Tyler Perry is capable of creating imaginative, soul- stretching, conscious art but has been holding back, waiting for his “appointed time,” to borrow an overused phrase from the Black Church.

Mea Culpa. I was so wrong. Tyler Perry seems to be unable to stretch beyond his own issues and create art, even when the art  has already been created for him. His apparent struggles with his sexuality, his issues with the father who abused him, his feelings about the women (read: MOTHER) who did not protect him from  the inhumane treatment of said father, and his affinity for a Jesus who accepts/affirms only heterosexuals prevent Perry from seeing, and thus communicating, the redemption and triumph in a choreopoem like Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.

This kind of irresponsible filmmaking affirms a harmful Christian, heterosexual, and patriarchal structure and it is, in a word, dangerous. It is dangerous to a community of people whose beliefs about the world and each other desperately need to be challenged and reshaped in order to heal. Although Tyler Perry alone should not have to bear the burden of conscious filmmaking, he is, in fact, the brown voice in Hollywood right now, but that is a different post.

So, how did Tyler Perry fuck up For Colored Girls? Oh, let me count the ways.

  1. Time and Place: How did seven women who were “outside Chicago, outside Detroit, outside Houston, outside Baltimore, outside San Francisco, outside Manhattan, and outside St. Louis” (Shange, p5) manage to end up in a walk-up in New York City? We don’t know. Tyler Perry never tells us.  He just hopes that we will rely on our good old suspension of disbelief and go with it. What he also hopes is that we will not notice the alarming and disappointing resemblance of this movie to The Women of Brewster Place. Are we also meant to ignore that the movie takes place sometime between 1975 (one character gets a back-alley abortion) and 2010 (Janet Jackson and Kerry Washington have cell phones and computers, but the other women seem to communicate only in person)?
  2. Characters: Here are a few things to consider: (a) If Janet Jackson’s character is going to deliver the line “I was open on purpose,” shouldn’t her character display some level of openness before the movie ends?  (b) If Phylicia Rashad is going to be the matriarch of the walk up (although I vehemently object to Rashad as matriarch in this film), shouldn’t the viewers at least know why? (c) Should Kimberly Elise have been cast as a twenty-two year old woman, which is Crystal’s age when she loses her children to a senseless murder in Shange’s choreopoem? (d) When Crystal (Elise) finally delivers (after Rashad blames her for the death of her children) the poem’s famous line, “I found God in myself, and I loved her fiercely,” does anyone believe her? I didn’t.
  3. Perry’s Treatment of Black Gay Sexuality: When are we going to stop with the “Black-Man-on-the-Downlow-gives-Faithful-Loving-But-Stoic-Wife-AIDS” storyline? Really Tyler? Really? Does your “downlow husband” character really say things like, “That is gay,” and “I am sorry for my truth”? What. The. Fuck. Will we ever get an explanation of your commitment to reinforcing every harmful, hurtful, and hateful stereotype of black gay men?

I could add numbers four and five, but I do not want to give away too much more of this movie.

Before I go, I do want to mention something that Perry did right with his version of For Colored Girls: He chose an amazing cast (Janet Jackson notwithstanding). He chose artists. Somehow those seven women managed to deliver parts from the original choreopoem with the strength and conviction of women who have indeed found God in themselves.

We do not need more films that demonize black men and victimize black women while simultaneously blaming them for being the victims.

We need art.

We need art that inspires us.

We need art that heals us.

We need art that brings us together.

We need art that celebrates and affirms who we are.

We need art that acknowledges our complexities.

We need art that makes us strong and proud to be who we are.

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12 Responses to When the Rainbow Falls Apart: Tyler Perry’s Misinterpretation of Triumph

  1. Aisha says:

    Em, this is the best review I have ever read! Thank you for calling out Tyler Perry’s Black Church-fueled, patriarchal homophobia. His “art” indeed seems more an expression of self-hatred than talent, and his attacks on gay black sexuality are down-right slanderous. Your writing is amazing btw:-)

  2. Sarah says:

    This is beautiful, conscious, and thoughtful like everything you put out into the world. I knew I would appreciate
    what you would have to say before you said it, which was quickly confirmed. Yours is a voice that needs to be
    loud out in the world. Much Love, Sarah

  3. Barbara Soloski Albin says:

    I saw the film, I have read the book, you have written a ‘spot on’ review!

  4. Danielle says:

    Brilliantly written! Well said:)

  5. Jimmie says:

    I totally agree with you that TP’s cinematic depiction of the movie was a disgrace to the original work. Janet Jackson’s character did a total 180 in the end without any warning and the movie did seem to be modeled very closely after The Women of Brewster Place.

  6. Chandra says:

    Very well said!

  7. Dudley says:

    Hey Eazy E,

    This is a good piece.

    My last Tyler Perry movie was “Why Did I Get Married?” I doubt if I’ll see “For Colored Girls” or anything else he’ll do in the future. It’s a shame
    that so many of our people flock to his movies and find his work entertaining.

  8. Butterfly says:

    I do not agree with this article. Although I respect the views. I do agree with the last part that we indeed need things to build us up. I loved the movie and could relate. Regardless of opinions the reason that tyler makes plays or movies is to reach the people souls and bring people to christ while entertaining. The focus is God first then entertainment. That is why he is always successful because God is the center of it. I do agree that people need to be uplifted but in reality people receive things better when they relate to them when they can feel it or know that you understand. You can not preach to anyone about something you have never went through. The audience has to feel understanding. If Tyler helped one person get out of an abusive relationship by seeing that the babies were thrown out then he was successful. If he helped a person who was raped to forgive he was successful. Success is valued in many different ways. The point he has is to reach people and speak to them through film. From a strategic standpoint there were many things that were wrong as you pointed out but I truly don’t believe thats his purpose. Great opinions!!!

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