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Monday
Sep142009

Tyler Perry And For Colored Girls: Somebody Walked Off Wid Alla (Our) Stuff! (Guest Post)

By Thembi Ford

Getting his hot little hands on Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play “For Colored Girls who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf," was coup of the year for Tyler Perry. Not only will he produce and direct the upcoming film version, the King of Coonery will also write the adaptation of what may be the most important work about black female identity ever. Ask any black woman, especially the artsy/moody/self-aware type, about “For Colored Girls…” and she will respond with a wistful look and fond memories.

I was Lady in Blue in a high school production and have told more than one sorry dude “insteada being sorry all the time, try being yourself,” quoting the Lady In Red (but playing it off like I came up with it on my own). This is classic material and now we can expect the intentionally stripped-down aesthetic of Shange’s work to be replaced by style choices that only a closeted gay man could make. Even worse, Perry has announced that he’d like to cast the likes of Oprah, Halle Berry, and Beyoncé to tackle the play’s issues, which include love, rape, abortion, and relationships. Beyoncé??? Please pass the Xanax.

More after the jump.

How did we come to such a low point in black entertainment? Sadly, money always talks. Did you know that Tyler Perry’s films have grossed about $319 Million in seven years, while Spike Lee’s have grossed $372 million in twenty-three years? When you account for the inclusion of rather mainstream flicks like Inside Man ($88 mil) in Lee’s canon, Tyler Perry is really in black folks pockets at an alarming speed. We’re going to see his movies in droves and I just cannot figure out why. Maybe it’s easy for whole church buses to go see a Perry flick after Sunday service, maybe we’re just happy to see black folks on-screen no matter what they do, or maybe we don’t have the sense of a Billy goat when it comes to choosing meaningful entertainment – I just don’t know. But the end result is the proliferation of a parade of empty, stereotypical characters, humor so dry it could sop up Jermaine Jackson’s hairdo, and the persistent depiction of black women whose lives are not complete unless they can find and hold onto a good black man. When we begged for greater representation on-screen, this is not what we had in mind.

Can I go back to Beyoncé and the meds I’ll need to watch her act again, especially in such a groundbreaking piece? It’s hard for me to even write about it because my thumbs have spontaneously become paralyzed into the DOWN position. First of all, I haven’t forgotten Beyoncé notifying the world that she’s not black, she’s Creole, which is the exact OPPOSITE of the “For Colored Girls...” message. Let’s also not forget that Beyoncé CANNOT act. I’ve given her too many chances to demonstrate that she can, and after watching her try to squeeze out tears while trying not to look directly into the camera I’ve concluded that the only role she’d excel in is an adaptation of Pinocchio – on camera, the girl looks like she’s made of wood. Her clumsy speech pattern is the stuff that gets folks flunked out of Julliard. There’s something about how her tongue sits in her mouth – its too big, its too wide, its too strong, it won’t fit. Why is this happening, again? Greed. Not just greed for money, but for recognition.

Whether or not Beyoncé ends up in the film, Perry has a special talent for creating the illusion that otherwise credible black actors don’t have enough talent for mystery dinner theater, so I have to consider anything he controls creatively a lost cause. However, as executive producer in a joint venture with Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry sat in the audience for Precious, a film highly praised by critics at the Sundance Film Festival (you may have heard the buzz about excellent performances from Mariah Carey and Mo’Nique). As the audience ooh’d and ahh’d at how creatively stunning it was, Perry scratched his chin and said “Hmmm. I want me some of this.” So now what should be a landmark moment in black female cinema directed by any of the renown black female directors out there – Kasi Lemmon (Eve’s Bayou), Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Secret Life of Bees), Debbie Allen (no explanation needed) or Nzinga Stewart (who was originally slated to direct the film) - is instead sure to fall flat under Perry’s control.

What’s saddest of all to me is that, as much as we can expect Perry to butcher Shange’s work, won’t so many of us feel obligated to see it anyway? Will we bite our tongues and watch, even if just for the sake of criticism and cultural commentary? Or will we consider ourselves lucky to absorb the prose and poetry of “For Colored Girls…” on the big screen for the first time? Should we patronize questionable black films just because they’re intended for us or should we boycott what we suspect is garbage? This is a persistent quandary that those of us interested in thoughtful black entertainment continue to face. Just what is a black woman to do with such a mess? When I ask myself these questions I’m reminded of Shange’s Lady in Green: “bein’ alive, bein’ a woman, and being colored is a metaphysical dilemma/ I haven’t yet conquered.” After thirty-four years at least that much still rings true.

Thembi Ford is the author of the blog What Would Thembi Do?

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Reader Comments (70)

For what does it profit a man to receive the world, yet lose his soul?

About $319 Million in seven years.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersnobfanforeal'

Love this post! I think you have captured many of our sentiments. However, I am going to hold out on this one and hope that Tyler Perry uses this as an opportunity to make up to our community. Maybe he will realize how much For Colored Girls means to us and consult some wise ppl that will help him make better decisions. And I hope Beyonce gets cut from the cast.

http://fillenoiremavie.blogspot.com

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSunflower Jones

Hey, miracles do come true. No one thought Steven Spielberg could do anything worthwhile with The Color Purple...

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCourt

I'd be the first to attempt that I'm not a fan of all of Perry's efforts but come on. You're criticizing the movie and he hasn't even began production yet. Have you considered that Tyler Perry is the only director/producer that would be able to make this film? Because he is. If we had to wait on the people like Spike Lee and Kasi Lemmons, we would be waiting forever because they have to use other people's money.

Trust that most adaptions for film are never as good as the original work. That goes for the Alice Walker's The Color Purple and Grisham's The Client. What a movie will do is increase the exposure of the play and enough more people to read it or stage productions. People are still going to see Chicago and people will still go and see For Colored GIrls.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

Court, please don't compare Steven Speilberg to Tyler Perry okay. That's a false arguement.

If Tyler Perry wasn't so damn narcasistic he would just executive produce Colored Girls and hand the directing role over to one of the formidable female directors mentioned in the post above.
Then it could be Colored Girls...presented by Tyler Perry (use his name recognition to get the money) but directed by Kasi Lemons(who I would love to see tackle this work). But that would be too much like right...so he'll direct it, butcher it and still make money off it.
Now will YT give him the critical acclaim that he seems to want now...probably not...they are still kind of pissy about him owning his own product and getting in through the back door...so he can give that Sundance, Cannes dream up.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersarah

I don't want to see "For Colored Girls" through the eyes of Tyler Perry. Nor do I want to see any of the named actresses (or wanna be actresses) in my beloved play. I'm sick of Oprah Winfrey and decided to place her on my list of black folk who need to go away. Halle is beautiful but her acting is as deep as a puddle. I think I need a Xanax to even speak about Beyonce and her acting abilities. No thanks Tyler.

Even more annoying will be the people who've never heard of Shange's work but after seeing the movie will declare themseves cultured. Can't wait for that one.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrandi

Lol..good response Brandi. I just posted about Tyler Perry movies..they are all the same. I haven't paid to see one since the first. There can be so many black cinderella stories out there..Im sure i'll pass on this one too..*smh*

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertrue2me

Great piece, couldn't agree with you more. The sad thing is that so many black people think that the crap Tyler makes is actually art. I've gotten to the point now where I just shake my head any time someone gives Tyler Perry praise.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan

Hollywood ran out of ideas a decade or so ago. Movies are now adaptations of comic books! Yes, comic books. So, don't hate the playa for making a dollar out of fifteen cents. Hate the film game. The last Speilberg produced movie released was Transformers 2. Not exactly the Godfather.

Perry is creating content for a very loyal audience. I understand the work Perry purchased came out in 1975. That says volumes about Hollywood studios and what they sell the black audience and less about Perry.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWenzel Dashington

Beautifully written and, as many have already said, you have captured my sentiments. I don't know who it would be that should do this project. I admit that the womanist in me wanted to see Julie Dash or some such amazing woman take it on... not just as Director. Truth be told, I wouldn't trust Spike with this one, either, as he's mishandled the hell out of us, as well. Anyway, thank you so much for this. I'm off to go light a candle for "For Colored Girls..."

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

Terry Perry's films aren't well made but they are entertaining. He isn't the best director but maybe he might do something decent with "For Colored Girls".

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

I agree with the criticism of TP and I know he will butcher this movie but when are the artistic folks with talent gonna get some business sense. I mean say what you want about Tyler but he is a good businessman. To many of the artistic and talented folks are sitting around waiting for some rich white benefactor to give them money to produce their projects

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpolticallyincorrect

I'm beginning to think that this is a class issue, Perry's films that is. I've been wondering for a long time how it was that so many Black people go to see TP's films and yet I always hear so much criticism. So now I'm thinking that I probably live in a sort of echo chamber where I hear my own thoughts repeated by the people I surround myself with, both on and off line. So as I think and hear others say they think TP's films are minstrelsy there are obviously lots of people who disagree. Which means that if TP actually does make this film there will be a lot of people willing to pay to see it.

And does anyone else find it interesting (and frightening) that Tyler Perry and Stepin Fetchit share the same sir name, Lincoln Perry/ Tyler Perry? I wonder if they are related?

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMonie

As the sound director for a college production of "For Colored Girls..." I support this post.

September 14, 2009 | Registered CommenterLeon X

I absolutely LOVE this post! You have put into words what I have thought ONE too many times when I was --- for some unknown reason -- watching one of Perry's movies. I cannot understand how someone could cast Rick Fox -- plastic and painful as he is to watch speaking the lines of a screenplay -- against the amazing actress that is Angela Basset in "Meet the Browns." As much as much as I love this play I don't know if I'm ready for the fire to be taken out of it -- Beyonce? Ugh! What has black cinema come to.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrittney

To Monie

Interesting you should say this about what class you are determines whether you like Tyler Perry movies or not. A couple of months ago I was reading a critique of his movies that argued that Perry often makes educated blacks to be the villains in his movie and blue collar/not formally educated blacks to be the heroes. The only TP movie I saw was "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and I think that criticism applies to that movie. The critique cited "Madea Goes to Jail" where the prosecutor was a villianous black woman but one of the sympathetic characters played by Keisha Knight-Pulliam was a crack whore, or something to that effect. Do you all find this pattern to be true?

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHULawyer

I can imagine that Mariah Carey was good in Precious...did yall see her in State Property (or was that State Property 2?) Fabulous performance. *rolls eyes* I hope Tyler makes her lady in Red! Maybe he could make Madea be lady in Blue! Then he could change the title to "Madea Considers Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf!" Now THAT would be something!

Who is going to see these movies? He made like another bajillion dollars this weekend!!!! I have never seen one! (Well, I saw part of one when I was at my cousins house and the only reason I even gave it 5 minutes was because Borris Kudjoe was in it, but when I saw him in that Steve Harvey hightop box fade wig on, I was like oh nevermind.) I have watched that one with Allen Payne in it a few times. But that's only because, well...it was Allen Payne, you know...Laaaaance from the Cosby Show. He at least deserved my attention for a few minutes. So beecause of that, I find myself in a quandary about whether its even fair for me to criticize him since I've never actually seen a WHOLE movie. But on the other hand, if they actually appealed to me, I guess I would have made an effort, right? Who the hell knows. Sigh.

I was in that high school production of For Colored Girls with Thembi. This hurts my heart. And If Beyonce is cast, well I'll just drop dead. Is nothing sacred? Yall are right tho...money talks. SMH

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGinneh

@ HULawyer

Honestly I haven't been interested enough to see any of TP's films considering the criticisms I've heard and read. But I will say that one of the reoccurring themes, from what I've heard, is that Black women who are "too" educated are the problem in Black relationships. That seems to mirror all of the studies and articles we see in the MSM.

I have seen his TV series "House of Payne" and from that I will say that TP's treatment of Black women is very problematic. Keshia Knight-Pulliam plays a con artist on the show and the mother of the children on the show is a crackhead and the other women are treated as stereotypes in the extreme.. It just seems that misogyny is the common thread of all of his work. Which is ironic since the majority of his fans seem to be Black women.

And I wonder how Keshia Knight-Pulliam feels about playing all of these negative roles?

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMonie

1. I would not like to see Tyler Perry as the director of this project. It would be great for him to produce and I loved "Eve's Bayou" so I support Kasi Lemons as a director any day. Having said that I must also agree that while many people who comment here don't think much of Perry's work, there are many more who like him and so his projects will be produced and seen before any other black director out there today.

2. While Perry's movies aren't always my cup of tea (overly simplistic plot lines and [sometimes] bad actors) they are entertaining to a certain audience and there is noting wrong with that. You'll see stupid movies from mainstream Hollywood all year round. I think what bothers me is that because he seems to be the ONLY black director/producer on the scene right now there is no diversity in the images that we see.

3. Should Tyler Perry not see the light and insists on directing this himself I really want him to get rid of his current list of "actresses". No offense to Halle and Oprah because they've both done their part but they are not the best actors that black Hollywood has to offer and Beyonce as an "actress" doesn't even need to be discussed. She wasn't mentioned but Jada Pinkett-Smith shouldn't be an option either. Instead I would love to see Angela Bassett (My all time favorite), Nona Gaye, Taraji P. Henson and Debbie Morgan.

4. Having said that, I must say that I have nothing against Perry personally and if he wants to go in more artistic way with his directing then I support him in that as well. I'd been a little less nervous if he didn't start with such a classic.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

I have much respect for Tyler Perry. It's amazing to see a black man rise above adversity to make something great of himself. That being said, i hate Tyler Perry movies. I hate the plots, the characters, the dialog, the actors. There's always too many people, with too much going on, for no reason at all. The movies always have a serious theme, but somehow they don't feel genuine, I can't empathize with the characters. That coupled with low brow jokes makes for terrible movies.

The upside is this is non Tyler Perry material. 'For Colored Girls' is a strong and poignant play, and I'm excited that this award winning play will be coming to the big screen. Hopefully he'll give us some banging cinematography and cast stellar actress. Sorry Tyler, but this one isn't for Tasha Smith or Janet (I love Janet, but I had to say it). But I guess well just have to wait and see how it turns out.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterconni3

@ HULawyer

That seems to be a prevalent theme in the movies I've seen but in "Why Did I Get Married" I remember them all being working professionals.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

Thembi: I feel your pain. Tyler is not the man to direct nor write this movie. I've read "For Colored Girls.." and seen a production of it. But like the two previous posters, I have to defend him (a little bit.)

What Tyler has acheived, to this point, is nothing short of miraculous. He is a one-man economy. He is employing more black folks in front of the camera and behind it, more than anyone else right now. Older black actors, like Louis Gosset Jr, marvel at TPs accomplishments. He owns his work, and that is something any businessperson/creative-type should replicate. (As Prince would say, "own your masters." That applies to any creative work.)

On the flip slide, his writing could be way better. My husband and I have seen most of his plays and films. As a writer, he has improved. Watch "Why Did I Get Married?" the play (too long and rambling), then the film (much tighter, with a better narrative), and you'll see the improvement. Like the late E.Lynn Harris, Tyler is not the best writer, but he hits on subjects people can relate to. If he opens himself up to co-writers, or learns the Heroes Journey, perhaps he'll become a better writer. (But please, God, let him hand over "For Colored Girls..." to someone else to write. I'm free!")

Althea
www.therawmochaangel.blogspot.com

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlthea

Whatevs.

I went to see Tyler's movie and I've got a Massa's degree at a teaching job that I hate. And guess what. My pockets is on lint. Thembi. You make some valid points. Really. You do. But chile. Your criticisms will fall short in the land of the forest because at the end of the day; Tyler is doing what he loves. When you do what you love and you're successful at it criticism will come a dime a dozen. Tyler is Tyler. He's not the devil. And he surely isn't the Black Race's Savior.

It's so easy to criticize. It makes the blog world go round; but try shooting a film, canning it, and then selling it. Then come back here and write about why Black America didn't support you. Tyler has found the formula that'll work. Do you even know how hard it is to get a film made?

Honey Hush.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCall it what you want.

Tyler has found the formula that'll work by repackaging misogyny in the form of Mammy, class resentment, stereotypes and the ever popular Black Man In A Dress.

Tyler will do whatever, but he is out of his depth on this one. Way out.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaJane Galt

@LaJane Galt - exactly! Tyler's formula is NOT a new one. It's the same old formula that's always worked in Hollywood.

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGinneh
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