Monday, November 15, 2010

Criticism of "For Colored Girls"

I have not seen the film yet, but here is a critical piece by Salamishah Tillet at The Root about Tyler Perry's adaptation of For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. (The film's title is shortened to For Colored Girls.) Here is an excerpt:
Ultimately, Perry's For Colored Girls could reach a larger audience than Shange could ever have imagined the stage and page versions reaching. Much like Lee Daniels' award-winning film Precious, Perry's version stands to usurp the original, not just in popularity but also in political message. Because of this, we need to celebrate Perry's ability to pull out the brilliant and magical performances provided by actresses like Loretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose and Phylicia Rashad and revel in his rare commitment to an all-black women's ensemble.

At the same time, we must remain hyper aware that Perry's For Colored Girls does little to dispel the sexual stereotypes and victim blaming of black women in contemporary American politics and popular culture -- especially of those women who have endured sexual assault, domestic violence, infertility and sexual transmitted infections. (Here, I should mention that Perry's new homophobic plot twist -- involving a closeted, bisexual, HIV-positive black man and his ostensibly emasculating wife -- also works against the open and inclusive spirit of Shange's brand of black feminism.)

But in the end, the durability of Shange's play has as much to do with the genius of her prose as it does with the stubbornness of racism and sexism to shape the material conditions of black women's lives. To his credit, Perry used 85 percent of Shange's original poetry in his final script. So even cloaked in his melodramatic conservatism, the potency of her words can't be fully lost.
This reminds me of last year's controversy over The Blind Side and Precious. The controversy erupted over "negative" versus "positive" portrayals of African Americans. The trouble with that kind of criticism, which often dogs the politics of representation, is that is misses the larger picture. It's true that the The Blind Side portrayed characters who were emblematic of goodness and tolerance and it carried a message of hope. But those characters were facile and their goodness was without sacrifice or insight. Precious' portrayal of African Americans wasn't so much negative as it was complex. That story was cast with full-fledged characters as opposed to stereotypes, with their own flaws and ambitions and hopes and nightmares. And ultimately, that kind of layered and sophisticated portrayal of people, of whatever color, is what we ought to seek and demand from filmmakers.

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