For Colored Boys Too

Originally written for on November 9, 2010


Based on the 1975 choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Contemplated Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” by Ntozake Shange, Tyler Perry offers a screenplay, which premiered last Friday. It its original form, Shange offers a collection of poems that provide a voice to unrequited love, abandonment, domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and abortion. The film attempts to mirror and provides imagery to those themes by using original characters from the play to illustrate the existential depth and profundity of the Black female experience. In this post I offer what I hope is a balanced assessment of the movie (as related to the themes presented Shange original) in two parts separately. My attempt here is to separate the film itself from the story it tells and offer my own arguments as to why it is important that the stories told are shared collectively by Black men and women in tandem. I am not intimately connected or protective of the Shange’s work so will do my best not to suggest why it “failed” to hold a candle to the original. After all it’s a movie and they’re never as good as the book, right? So, here we go.

The Film

My thoughts here are fairly brief. As I have shared with many of you offline, I was worried about how this choreopoem and staged play would look on film. I never had a worry about the message(s) or stories themselves but was convinced that a screenplay would be difficult to manage; it was. In a provocative Huffington Post article written by my dear friend Bassey Ikpi she shares her desires and reservations, much like my own, for Tyler Perry beyond the role of producer. In my humble opinion, I think this art expressed in its original form and the adapted play are where it should stay for a simple reason. For Colored Girls is centered around individual narratives told through monologues; a film is hard pressed to capture adequately for its audience by the nature of the art itself. More especially is this the case when there are multiple characters with such deeply rich anecdotes veiled in allegory.

Those criticisms withstanding, I applaud Perry’s efforts and his motivations to bring this message to a broader gallery. Of course it’s not perfect but what is? The fact remains the Tyler Perry’s involvement reaches new audiences, many of whom, younger generations and men especially would never have been engaged in the For Colored Girls conversation. Even I only became personally invested when I was made aware he was attempting to capture it on film. As result, I am much more aware and duly informed because of the controversy. For that reason I am sharing with others the importance of what this play turned movie brings to light for generations colored boys who need to care for colored girls and each other. As mentioned by Black Voices, I must also say that the cast did a phenomenal job and certainly made up for any shortcomings the film, itself, possessed. The performances, casting, and portrayals were spot on in my opinion and I believe the surprise starlets of the group were undoubtedly British Actress Thandie Newton and the up-and-coming Tessa Thompson.

As Related To Black Men

In an earlier article for NPR, Lee Hill shared his sentiments about the film as it relates to the Black male narrative. In his article he fairly challenges the film’s re-inscription of the deficit perspectives on Black men as “society’s stammering uber-demon, who comes to steal, kill and destroy.” I think this critique in and of itself shows an unfair re-centering of men as the focus in an already pervasive patriarchal society. In all fairness to Hill, while I offer this blog to draw parallels to encourage Black men to read the book and/or see the film, I am also making maleness and manhood the foci of the conversation. I think the difference in presentation, however, rests on my desire for men to engage the stories as a vehicle toward better understanding themselves, the privilege of their maleness, and the in/direct effects and oppression their male privilege can have on our community. 

Like Hill, I was not surprised by the portrayal of Black men but not because it mirrored traditional approaches to Black male images in the media. Given the contexts of the stories, which defined the Black female experience in relation to their interactions with Black males and their collective support for each other, it was completely necessary. This was of no real control by Perry whatsoever in effort to stay true to the original storyline.

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