by Aja Dorsey Jackson
Black men are mad about For Colored Girls and I don’t know why.
I am generally not a fan of Tyler Perry’s movies, not a hater, just not a fan. Honestly my hesitance toward Perry’s films has nothing to do with the standard commentary about his movies. Yes, I think some of his films border on buffoonery (along with many of the other Black movies made over the past..forever) but I’m not one of those people that feels like Madea is as lethal to the Black community as poverty and AIDS. My problem with Perry is that most of his movies play out like a lot of urban fiction reads; same unimaginative “oh-no-he-didn’t” plot lines that at the end of the day for me are just boring. So while I respect him as a business man, I’ve never been one to run out and see the next Tyler Perry flick.
Because of that, when I found out he was adapting Ntozake Shange’s play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf for the big screen I was disappointed. I had no intention of going to see Perry ruin what I felt was an amazing play by adapting it to fit the standard Tyler Perry format. I went anyway at the encouragement of friends expecting to be disappointed. I left feeling like it was one of the best films I have seen in a long time.
Yes, the movie had problems. The storyline involving Janet Jackson and her closeted gay husband was the only one that was not in the original play and the one that I saw and thought “Ok, vintage Tyler Perry right here”. That whole part of the film was unnecessary and even though I love Janet, she couldn’t hold her own in a movie with far better actresses like Loretta Devine and Thandie Newton.
That aside, I thought that the way that Perry was able to weave the original monologues into the film showed a level of creativity that made me wonder why he hadn’t been doing the same thing all along. All of the actresses were phenomenal including Macy Gray, whose portrayal of the back-alley abortionist literally sent shivers down my spine.
But there was one thing I didn’t understand after actually seeing the film. I didn’t get the accompanying male outrage. I have heard many men (many of whom have not read the play or seen the movie) decry the movie as a male-bashing film. There are five men with roles in the movie, and out of those five, Hill Harper’s character as the supportive husband is the only true “good” man in the film.
Yet, when I got to the end of the movie, I felt that the men’s roles were marginal. The women in the movie and play endured pain, often at the hands of men, but the focus to me is on the women. As ugly as some of the stories themselves are, the themes in the book and film, domestic violence, infertility, abortion, troubled mother/daughter relationships etc., are real. I only had to hear one woman in the theater sobbing hysterically during the rape scene to understand that the story spoke to Black women on some level, something that most of Hollywood isn’t doing.
So why is it so problematic for Black men when these stories are told? The argument that I hear is one of balance, as in the idea that whenever a Black man is seen in a movie he is embodying some type of doggish character.
While I agree that there stands to be a lot more balance in general in depictions of Blacks in film, Hollywood has not been any kinder in my opinion to Black women than it has to Black men. Eventhough we uphold Spike Lee for directing some great Black movie classics, his movies are not chock-full of positive depictions of Black women when they even include Black women at all. Yet I don’t recall the uprising amongst Black women after any of Lee’s movies.
So again I wonder why the public outcry? I am someone who promotes positivity and positive images of African Americans, which is one reason that I write for this site. However as a writer and someone who loves stories, I realize that every story is not positive. The male characters in For Colored Girls; a veteran who resorts to abuse after being let down by society; a rapist who looks like a friend; a married man going back and forth with where he wants to be after being hurt by his own wife; a police officer who supports his wife unconditionally; are depictions of some African American men. They are no more representations of all Black men than Precious is representative of all Black women.
Do I agree that there should be more positive depictions of Blacks? Absolutely. I think that we need to be more represented everywhere doing everything. That way we can be able to watch For Colored Girls in the same way that White people can watch Silence of the Lambs and not worry for one minute that everyone is about to associate all White men with Hannibal Lector. That way I can watch Precious and Love Jones and I can watch The Wire and The Cosby Show and realize that our depictions are as multifaceted as our experiences. And while I enjoy Love and Basketball, I can feel alright in my desire to digest something heavier from time to time.
But if you don’t like it, do something about it. Support the films you want to see. Be like Ronnie and Lamar and put out your own movie. Continue to be a good man so that your kids know that good Black men exist in real life so they don’t have to look for a positive movie to see one. Better yet, understand that there are real women who face these challenges and be angry about the reality of it instead of the depiction. Even dislike For Colored Girls if you want to, but realize this: if you don’t see yourself in it, it’s not about you, but just because you aren’t in the story doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told.
What did you think about the movie? Why are so many Black men mad about it?