How did Tyler Perry’s star-filled adaptation, “For Colored Girls,” stack up after doubts that the 1975 experimental play, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange, should have been made into a film?
First off, Mr. Perry’s attempt was very ambitious as he had to tackle the original series of 20 poems, called a “choreopoem,” whose seven female characters dealt with some tragic life experiences, and apply them to the screen.
Second, he had to deal with the author’s reservations about his ability and feared he might “characterize the women as plastic.”(1) Couple that with the fact that Oprah Winfrey did not believe the book should have been made into a film at all.(2, 3)
Despite all objections and reservations from others, Tyler dove into the writing, direction and production of the film adaptation and his fabulous cast of characters.
There have been very mixed reviews of Tyler Perry’s success this time around. Some believe he hit the mark and others believe he has fallen far short of it. According to Hill Harper, the only “good guy” in the film, in an interview with Black Voices, Tyler Perry gave very clear directorial direction by letting the actors know when something was working or not, while allowing the artists to find their characters.(4)
The New York Times reported that “… Lionsgate is not selling “For Colored Girls” as a Tyler Perry film, even though he directed it and adapted it for the screen. Mr. Perry’s name – typically trumpeted from the rooftops in marketing materials – is noticeably underplayed in the film’s promotional campaign, lightly written on billboards and buried on forcoloredgirlsmovie.com.”
“Instead Lionsgate is trying to position “For Colored Girls” as a work of art. The final poster for the film, released last week, is a nod to Piet Mondrian’s grid paintings, and the ads on billboards and bus shelters go for a sharply contemporary feel, blending graffiti with portraiture.”
The reason behind this subtle marketing is because critics have complained that Perry’s previous work “panders and stereotypes, while his directing is sloppy and unsubtle.”(5)
Despite the criticisms, Tyler Perry is still the most successful African American filmmaker in Hollywood, known for his mix of serious and religious undertones in his comedic films and plays. It was perhaps for his reason that Liongate chose to underplay Perry’s part in this endeavor – they wanted this film to be taken seriously.
Although Ms. Shange originally had reservations about this film adaptation, after seeing the completed film said, “I think he did a very fine job, although I’m not sure I would call it a finished film.” She also stated, “I’m grateful Tyler chose my work. My readers need to see it.”(5)
Whatever opinion critics have of Tyler’s job, past or present, there can be no doubt that the cast of characters put their “all” into convincing the audience, through the poetry and their actions, that they had experienced the tremendous pain shown throughout the film.
While the characters were identified only by colors in the play, Tyler Perry gave them names, added characters and wrote in narrative and scenes to pull the “choreopoem” into a more unified account. The movie storyline unfolds and depicts nine women who gain strength and dignity as they endure issues of abandonment, rape, back-alley abortion, and domestic violence, many societal ills that are still pervasive in society today . The women’s problems derive primarily from their misplaced faith in untrustworthy males. Coming from different backgrounds, their lives manage to intersect each other.
The female stars include Crystal (Kimberly Elise), Jo (Janet Jackson), Juanita (Loretta Devine), Tangie (Thandie Newton), Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose), Kelly (Kerry Washington), Nyla (Tessa Thompson), Gilda (Phylicia Rashad), and Alice (Whoopi Goldberg). Each one dealt with their own issues, with one of the characters, Gilda, taking on a care-taker type of role. The other characters that filled completed the storyline include Rose (Macy Gray), Beau Willie (Michael Ealy), Carl (Omari Hardwick), Frank (Richard Lawson), Donald (Hill Harper), and Bill (Khalil Kain).
This film’s intensity will leave you feeling numb in order to protect yourself from feeling gut-wrenching emotions as you watch one life-changing story to the next. Tyler Perry managed to blend the vignettes of poetry taken from the original play with his prose to show a cohesive on-screen melodrama. In some cases the interjection of poetry may seem a little awkward or out-dated, just as black people no longer make reference to themselves as “colored,” but to keep true to the original piece in it’s seventies context, the wording could not be changed. The monologues Mr. Perry incorporated described the emotion and pain the women felt in a very beautiful, soulful way.
Only Tyler Perry could manage to get so many stars in one film. The actors were superb in the characterizations of their roles. He was very impressive in his undertaking of the adaptation of a very unusual source, a series of poems; one which will continue to be a subject of controversy for some time to come. This film is something very different and will perhaps motivate the younger generation to read the original play. Tyler Perry has managed to create a work of art unlike that of any other filmmaker around today; he successfully portrayed the play’s poetry into an intense visual and narrative story and got very close to hitting the mark in this endeavor.
1Brooks Barnes, “Tyler Perry gets serious with new image, new film”, The Seattle Times , retrieved 2010-11-2
2″Even Oprah Didn’t Want Him To Do It! Trailer Unveiled For Tyler Perry’s ‘Colored Girls'”, Deadline Hollywood Daily, September 16, 2010
3″Lionsgate & Tyler Perry To Make Movie Of ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf,'” Deadline Hollywood Daily, September 3, 2009)
4″The Men of ‘For Colored Girls’: Hill Harper’s Good Guy Role is a Welcome Reprieve,” Black Voices
5″Madea Takes a Break, and Tyler Perry Gets Serious,” The New York Times