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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