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?

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

  1. @DCStar — I totally co-sign on your statement. As an educated Black Woman (who was not a film major) I enjoy TP films like I enjoy that addictive Pumpkin Bread at the Starbucks. I only get it once a season, and its tasty — so why not indulge in a slice? (Please don’t flame me too badly for enjoying TP — apparently thats taboo to say around these parts) I saw "Bad" this weekend with some equally as educated Sorority sisters, and we all left satisfied. Was it amazing? No. Was it entertaining? Yes. Did Brian J White actually get hired for an acting job thanks to TP? Yes. And is that guy who plays Eric on CSI:Miami still attractive? Certainly yes. Movies are allowed to be an escape from reality and entertaining. They do not all have to be "Precious" (which I think will be a truly amazing piece of cinema to hit the US audience — and honestly what made it happen IMHO is the fact that Oprah’s name is slapped on it. However does that make it any less?) At this point I’m waiting to see what TP does when he runs out of plays to adapt, and I am willing to give him that chance. I find it hard to expect Sundance worthy cinema out of a Chittlin’-Circuit Gospel play — which is all he’s produced so far. He’s taken his Gospel plays (which IMHO tend to be a bit hokey and stereotypical by nature — I mean sometimes the titles alone can evoke an eyeroll from the educated black folks of the world) and simply adapted them. Do I think he can do FCG’s? I don’t know. He’s never had to do such a serious and riveting piece yet — but don’t loose hope so quickly. Its possible that when put out of his element, he may come with something beautiful (or at least maybe ask for help). Either way I’m not sure FCG’s would ever make it on the screen if not for someone like TP at this point in Hollywood.

  2. I’m thinking that TP would have been chosen because he can bring in the box office. While there maybe and certainly are better directors, he has proved himself to be able to get the job done. Until we can get the people who feel that there are better and more brillant directors to put the money where the mouth is…TP is the flavor of the day. He keeps the ministers and those kind of people from all of the years of presenting on stage in his corner so when he hits the big screen, these ministers and the church people are encouraged to follow his presentations. Instead of constantly railing that these people are not the elistist, the elistist should study his methods on how to produce a huge following. For days we as a people bashed THE COLOR PURPLE when it was a film, but there was obviously something about that film that made it a hit and its actors move on to better roles. Perhaps those other directors could lean a bit to direct some of the films that are the same genre until their name becomes a household word and then they can move ahead to the types of things that they really want to direct. Something is going right that we are missing out on all of these wonderful productions that we should be crowding out the box office to see as is being done with TP. We certainly remember TP saying that the reviewers were constantly telling him that they didn’t believe he would get the money at the box office, but he knew his following that he had taken the time to endear, so he could laugh behind their backs to his Black audiences, because they had given him the confidence that they would follow and support him. While I will be overjoyed to entertain new directors, I will always give this man props that he knew what he needed to do to get where he is now as I hope and pray that other Black directors will find their niche for a productive following.

  3. As I said before, I really do like THE FAMILY THAT PREYS. I saw a beautiful relationship between two mature women that had grown out of less than favorable circumstances and their relationship with their children. While I kept reading on this site and others about a relationship between this Black woman and the white lover. That wasn’t the part that endeared me to the film. Everything else was merely the enviornment around that relationship. Perhaps I missed what was supposed to be the gist of the film. But that was the part that I enjoyed. I remember his saying with the first film that he didn’t get what he wanted in the direction, but once he learned how it worked he was able to show his films from eye. Having said that, it leads me to believe that we may all be in for an unexpected treat with COLORED GIRLS. He certainly has to grow with the experience that he has under his belt now. I am anxious to see what he does with it.

  4. The actors must, at least, see something that those who complain about his genre of film is missing. They all seem to be standing in line to secure a role in one of his films. So while he is directing films that many of us do not approve, he’s directing the best of our talent as well as creating roles for many Black actors that many of us have never seen before I am waiting for Denzel next. LOL! All these posts have been to say, let’s not tear the man down so much. Among many other things, he has been a "stimulus package" in jobs for our actors.

  5. When I heard TP was going to direct ‘For Colored Girls’ I groaned out loud. Sorry, but I got the same sinking feeling when I heard Spielberg would direct ‘Color Purple’ – a small, intimate glimpse into the life a Black girl-woman at the turn of the century through her letters/diary that was turned into some kinda – ugh – I still can’t say what it was, but it wasn’t the book I’d read years before the movie was made. Oh, and let’s not forget Opie’s turning that into "The Musical!" I’m just not feelin’ it. I also don’t think all of "our" stories/plays/novels have to be given the over-the-top hollyweird treatment. There’s nothing wrong with true cinematic work – thoughtful executions of classics can be made and enjoyed, just not at your local cineplex. I guess it’s always about the dollars…thefuneraldiaries.blogspot.com

  6. I am not even sure why this is so heavily debated. If you don’t like Tyler Perry don’t see his movies or watch his shows. If you like his movies and shows then watch. The man can only make money if people support his ventures. I don’t have a problem with the man. He makes his money and has started his own film company. I have seen many of his movies and I agree that some may lack depth and some folks may have problems with the characters but I am proud that a Black man has his own film company and is able to produce what he wants produce. If Black women wanted someone to tell their story so badly then why didn’t some of us come together to make that happen. It is easy to talk but so few do. Someone could have worked to make an independent film with this script starting the people that they wanted but they didn’t. In my mind what makes TP great is not necessarily his movies or shows but it is that he was willing to fight to do what he wanted to do when everyone in Hollywood told him NO and he was successful. More people in the Black community need to do what he did that including the people commenting. If you don’t like it do something about it and stop whining. This whole discussion sounds elitist diatribe against this man. Don’t like the movies/shows…don’t watch the movies/shows don’t watch them…period. Go see the play or read the book. Simple solution.

  7. Ya know, I would take the criticism of Perry’s soon to be adaption of the "Colored Girls" seriously if this post actually focused on his writing ability and gave specific examples of how his particular writing style will hamper the effectiveness of the message couched in this play, which I and most people have never heard of. It’s really easy to sit back and pontificate on your blog (a blog most people don’t give rat’s arse about) about the shortcomings of a movie director’s whose daily income could supply the necessary funds to support you annual subsistence of Ramen noodles. Ya see, that comment hurt and was innappropriate because it was a personal attack w/o merit. Tyler Perry is making the movie because he can and btw, stop being such a racist. Tyler Perry is not the black face of entertainment, nor does he proclaim to be. He is a director that happens to be black and speaks through and with his voice (God forbid) to a community of which his voice vibrantly resonates. And ya know, Akilah and the bee sucked, and that’s why it didn’t do very well at the box offices. But thank God there are purists out there such as yourself, that warn us lowly negroes of the perils of black entertainment like making money, providing jobs for black actors and actresses, and having complete control and authority over a message.Attack the art, and not the man.Isa hope-suh dis hea respuns iz intelligbbble nuff fa ya.

  8. Peace,Thank you, thank you thank you. I had passed on Mr. Perry’s works,until my mother had to come live with me… LORD DELIVER ME. As I sat there with my mother I decided that I just can’t do it again. LORD DELIVER ME!!!!

  9. Ah, the A&A reference for the millionth time(vomiting in my mouth)It’s very simple-like GED simple. If you don’t like TP movies dpn’t watch them…..Oh @GailS-how about commending him for getting out of the gutter!

  10. ‘I think I just died a little on the inside. Watching black art go down the toilet. I feel sick.’Poor thing, someone should put you out of your misery………..

  11. This man is a talentless hack when it comes to film. I don’t care how much he has acheived..that means nothing when your work has no value or creative merit. He has no range in his writing or directing and it is quite evident onscreen. If he can’t make a family situational comedy work, how can he tackle the subjects of "For Colored Girls"? Besides, the original director should have stayed in that position, and Tyler should have pulled a Peter Jackson & Neill Blomkamp and produced the film by a newbie. People love to say, "Oh well he is so rich and powerful and built his own studio" For what, to make only TP films? He should be helping other talent and raising the bar in that realm, (producing can prove to make more money than directing anyways). No one is hating on TP, they are simply stating what seems to be true..TP can’t direct films, maybe plays, and follows the typical ego route when it comes to filmmaking..me me me me he says.

  12. FYI, Amazon.com offers a video adaptation of For Colored Girls starring Alfre Woodard and Lynn Whitfieldhttp://www.amazon.com/Colored-Girls-Considered-Suicide-Rainbow/dp/B000067IYK/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b

  13. I've seen all of Tyler's movies and plays. He is providing employment for many black actors who otherwise would not be working on a regular basis. How many people have you employed? Furthermore Spike Lee should stop hating Tyler and follow his example and maybe he would not have so much of a problem getting money to fund his projects. He has been in the business longer than Tyler and should have more than he has. Some black people will say anything negative about other blacks who have worked very hard for their success.

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