By Connie Johnson
Dept. of Communication Studies (Rhetoric & Language Studies)
When Ntozake Shange first released “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” her intensely dramatic poetry created a watershed movement for black women and the spoken word in 1976. Almost 40 years later, Shange’s artistic brilliance is struggling to become an equally poignant dramatic masterpiece at the box office. With the help of a star-studded cast that includes Whoopi Goldberg (Alice), Janet Jackson (Jo), and Phylicia Rashad (Gilda), Tyler Perry of “Madea’s Big Happy Family” fame is “moving on up to the big time” with his remake of Shange’s choreopoem collection.
Under Perry’s direction, disappointment, fury and anger become the marching orders of black women who seem to find only misery and anguish in the black men they love. Unlike Shange’s version where there are scenes of hope, joy, and positive portrayals of male characters, Perry consistently portrays male characters in negative roles. Between sex-hungry lovers who abandon their women at will and HIV-infected users, the colored girls in Perry’s remake are rightfully bitter. That is not to say that Perry’s version of “Colored Girls” is to be dismissed as a hackneyed rendition of a masterpiece stage performance. Moving a Broadway stage production to a box-office blockbuster at movie theaters is certainly no easy task. As such, Perry quite ably faces the realities of ticket sales and audience fandom with a superstar cast that includes Goldberg, Rashad, and Jackson as well as bright new stars like Kimberley Elise (Crystal).
Granted, some of the performances seem forced or perhaps too cliche to measure up to Shange’s original intent in the stage production of her poetry. But this is perhaps a necessary evil when it comes to delivering melodrama and passion to the silver screen. More importantly, perhaps, is how the film version of “Colored Girls” villainizes black men at the expense of celebrating black women. Is “Colored Girls” merely “Sex in the City” in blackface? Hardly. Many of the performances are stellar. Though “Colored Girls” is a far cry from Mo’Nique’s Academy Award winning performance in “Precious,” Perry can take heart in an excellent first start at serious filmmaking. Even Madea would be proud.