For Colored Girls who appreciate Ntozake Shange AND Tyler Perry…

As per my request, our Asylum sister, @Chey_Marly_mom has once again blessed our humble Asylum with a posting. Please enjoy…

I intended to read “For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” the choreopoems by Ntozake Shange, before I went to see Tyler Perry’s film adaptation, “For Colored Girls”. Be that as it may, I didn’t receive my copy of the book soon enough in advanced of my pre-scheduled night out at the movies with my girlfriends. And ladies night out occurs far too infrequently for me to have considered postponing that much needed date with my sister friends, sans little people and significant others. In my comment posted to @AllTayo’s review of the film, I declared that I am most certainly not one of those people who’d made up my mind about Tyler’s efforts prior to seeing his interpretation. Black media was/is flooded with commentary, more negative than positive, about Tyler’s pre-supposed audacity for even attempting to bring Ntozake Shange’s poetic works to the big screen. And not so much because of its sacredness, I’m convinced, but more so because of the messenger and his pre-existing repertoire of works that seemingly portray blacks in a stereotypical light. I’ve seen several of Perry’s movies prior to my viewing of “For Colored Girls”, and he is notorious for his exaggerated presentation of the distressed black female experience. After seeing his rendition of Ntozake’s works, without previously experiencing her poetic compositions, I wasn’t mad. I’ve since read the choreopoems, and I’m STILL not mad. I’m particularly not mad at him for MAKING the film. In fact I thought it to be his best work…and that remains unchanged.

Now let me be really clear, “I’m STILL not mad” means that with regard to Tyler writing; producing, and directing the screen play, he did well. Reading the actual choreopoems for myself has actually made me appreciate to some degree his growth and development as a filmmaker. “For Colored Girls” is INSPIRED by Ntozake’s poetry. It is NOT and should not be viewed as a literal depiction of the choreopoems. Her poetry has been celebrated and performed by theatre groups on Broadway and amateur stages, bars, and lounges across the country EXACTLY as she intended for over 30 years…in verses verbatim, live…with music, lighting & set design. There has to be some consideration for what elements are necessary to transcribe such a piece of art to Hollywood motion picture standards, and all that is required to make a film a blockbuster (i.e. relevance, controversy, star power). I mean ANY attempt to translate literary works to cinema is a huge proposition… and all will likely not be content.

With that being said…Ntozake Shange’s work should be required reading for anyone who wishes to experience firsthand HER expression of the (urban) Black woman’s experience through her poetry. The women represented in the choreopoems as colors green, yellow, orange, red, purple, blue and brown(lady in white, played by Whoopi Goldberg is Tyler’s creation) portray embattled and familiar lives. Their stories are revealed in the backdrop of 7 infamous cities across the country and their confrontation with poverty, rape, prostitution, aspirations, disappointments & death seem to be further antagonized by relationships with dysfunctional black men. But these women and their experiences are nonetheless empowering. Each of them has an underlying fighting spirit that is captured in their melodious prose.

Lady in green: “…somebody almost ran off wit alla my stuff/& I was standin
there/lookin at myself/the whole time
& it wasn’t a spirit took of my stuff/waz a man whose
ego walked round like Rodan’s shadow/waz a man faster
in my innocence/waz a lover/ i made too much
room for/almost run off wit alla my stuff/
& I didn’t know i’d give it up so quik/& the one running wit it/
don’t know he got it/ & i’m shoutin this is mine/ & he don’t
know he got it/ my stuff is anonymous ripped off treasure
of the year/ did you know somebody almost got away with me/
me in a plastic bag under their arm/me
dangling on a string of personal carelessness/ i’m spattered wit
mud & city rain….”

The lady’s and their colors in the choreopoem are not synonymous to the film… and this I believe is where Tyler may have also disenchanted some of the scrutinizing champions of Ntozake’s work. Again, (and I hate to be all #TeamTylerPerry) there has to be some consideration for revisions that are required to produce a movie based on another artists work that was originally created in a completely different medium. Notwithstanding, I believe the film’s premise is consistent with what Ntozake wanted to convey. That Black women are often times on the receiving end of hardships that leave us wounded in ways that makes being called a “strong black woman” a condition as opposed to a moniker. The narratives are homogeneous.

Lady in blue:
“…I got sorry greeting me at my front door
you can keep yours
I don’t know what to do wit em
they dont open doors
or bring the sun back
they don’t make me happy
or get a morning paper
didn’t nobody stop usin my tears to wash cars
cuz a sorry

I am simply tired
of collectin
I didn’t know
I was so important toyou’
im gonna haveta throw some away
I cant get to the clothes in my closet
for alla the sorries
im gonna tack a sign to my door
leave a message by the phone
if you called
to say your sorry
call somebody
i don’t use em anymore’

i let sorry/didn’t meanta/ & how could i know about that
take a walk down a dark & musty street in brooklyn
i’m gonna do exactly what i want to
& I wont be sorry for none of it
letta sorry soothe your soul/im gonna soothe mine”

I really don’t wish to make a detailed comparison or break down all of the specific differences between the two works because I think it would be unfair for anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to make their own assessment. For me “For Colored Girls” was a very ambitious undertaking by Tyler. I understand fully why some feel like Ntozake’s work didn’t need any interpretation and I further understand why Tyler may have felt compelled to challenge himself with a piece that has some familiarity to him, is widely respected, beloved and demands considerable handling. But ultimately, it isn’t a far stretch from his prior works which seems to be the primary reason for the vitriol from his erudite critics. I mean if Forrest Whitaker had made “For Colored Girls” I wonder if there would be as much shade. Anyway I digress…

Now, I am not a media analyst in any way. I leave that to the experts! (cues Owl). But I am somewhat of a critical thinker at times and I believe that both pieces of work have made a contribution. Whether that contribution is positive or negative is subjective to the surveyor. I’ve had numerous conversations with movie goers who walked away with something after seeing “For Colored Girls”… whether observing their own reflection or that of another woman/man they know, inspiration, and or dissatisfaction with the under/over development of Tyler’s characters. It’s important to point out that due to the lack of “positive” images of blacks and the current illuminati like obsession with the plight of black women (i.e. standards of beauty, education, career, family and marital status) a film celebrating or disparaging our likeness will generate an audience due to lack. We are starved of images of ourselves and although there are plenty of literary works available to supplement; there is a deficit in its consumption. The movie has resurrected the poems, the BOOK… another reason I’m not mad.

I can’t leave you with this post and not share the most serendipitous moment I experienced reading Ntozake’s choreopoem. This actually brings me to the one significant criticism I have with Tyler’s work. What it means to be black and proud is an anomaly intrinsic to a people who have been systematically oppressed for generations. Ntozake Shange clearly wanted to convey in her poetry the experience of being colored and female with this predicament. There is no question that Black people have an inherent strength & tenacity. For whatever reason Tyler chooses not to or is simply not creativity capable (yet) of successfully portraying the balance between self hate and self love & the many contributing factors to both conditions. Ntozake was able to exemplify this in her writing….I cannot tell you how moved I was by the words of her lady in brown throughout the choreopoem(again, not synonymous to Tyler’s lady in brown). Please take a moment to read the poem below to better understand my enchantment… better yet I would recommend adding “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” to your library.

Lady in brown: “dark phrases of womanhood
of never havin been a girl
half-notes scattered
without rhythm/no tune
distraught laughter fallin
over a black girl’s shoulder
it’s funny/ it’s hysterical
the melody-less ness of her dance
don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul
she’s dancing on beer cans & shingles

this must be the spook house
another song with no singers
lyrics/ no voices
& interrupted solos
unseen performances

are we ghouls?
children of horror?
the joke?

don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul
are we animals? have we gone crazy?

I can’t hear anything
but maddening screams
& the soft strains of death
& you promised me
you promised me…
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
carin/struggle/hard times
sing her song of life
she’s been dead so long
closed in silence so long
she doesn’t know the sound
of her own voice
her infinite beauty
she’s half-notes scattered

without rhythm/no tune
sing her sighs
sing the song of her possibilities
sing a righteous gospel
let her be born
let her be born
& handled warmly.”