Saturday, November 13, 2010
Now that the dust has settled, and the pundits have had their say. I'd like to revisit the recent Tyler Perry "remake" of For Colored Girls. I hesitate to use that term, because Mr. Perry chose to add two characters to the cast that Nztonge Shange created in her award winning play. I think it is worth mentioning that Ms. Shange suffers from Bipolar disorder (further explored in Liliane), and has battled back from a stroke a few years ago. Even so she looms large as a literary figure still-I just read her Some Sing, Some Cry written with her sister. Revisiting this play allowed me to go back and re-read some other Shange favorites, as well as discover new ones like her poem-pictorial with Romare Bearden.
Much of the criticism of the movie was related to the harsh portrayal of African-American men that Shange tells through her 7 characters.African-American columnists had clever titles for their opinion pieces-perhaps most notable For colored men who have considered suicide who have to sit through another Tyler Perry movie. In his defense Mr. Perry notes that he couldn't make a movie in which there was no positive black male. I guess he's not including many of his other characters from Meet the Browns, House of Payne, and of course the Madea movies. The centerpiece of the Shange production is the A nite with beau willie brown-which in the movie also takes center stage, but ties the other characters stories together midway.
Understandable, but a definite departure from the play. While appreciated Mr. Perry's admittance that this was based on the play, (and hence the shortened title), for me the movie was less about those changes than it was to hear that searing choreopoem once again-which is why I posted a readily available version of the play above. For colored girls, who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf was the very first play I had seen-at the McCree Theater in Flint, Michigan-I was 19. And thus began my love affair with live performance. From that moment on, I went to every play that came to town-even though I was a psychology major, I took a theater class. Extra credit was offered for seeing more than the required performances. Elizabeth the 1st, Waiting for Godot-nothing was off limits for me. A few years later, while in graduate school, my grandmother sent me some money, which I used to go to New York City to see Dream Girls (nothing like the movie by the way). These experiences broadened to other genres-live classical and jazz, art exhibits by Georgia O'Keefe, Monet, Romare Bearden, ManRay at the Art Institute MOMA, LACMA, dance by Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theater, Opera at the Met, it was an insatiable desire. I've even traveled to different countries to see performances- jazz vocalist DeeDee Bridgewater (actually from Flint) is a regular in Europe. As I've gotten older, my artistic interests have become more experimental, and I am more interested in the story behind the work. It is not unusual for me and my husband to fly to a city just for some opening.
So for me the re-telling of For Colored Girls is long overdue. I missed seeing Somebody almost walked off wid alla of my stuff, I'm Sorry, No Assistance, I used to live in a world, My love is, and of course, A layin on of hands. I'm not sure if a younger generation would have seen it-especially as a play-though powerful-it is not performed often. Had I not been exposed to this art form, I might not have bothered with August Wilson-many African-Americans have never heard of him. I'm no fan of Madea, but as a businesswoman even I can see one of the things that make Mr. Perry a marketing genius-is that he tapped an ignored market, gave them the same product again, again and again. This is why he is the 2nd highest earning man in Hollywood by Forbes magazine. Perhaps Mr. Perry will continue to bring serious drama to the stage and screen-he and Oprah did produce Push by Sapphire into Precious. (Oscar winner, Monique is slated to announce the Academy Awards January 25th, with the awards being broadcast February 27th-during black history month). He now has the financial and artistic freedom to bring his largely female audience along to experience the arts in a broader sense. To whom much is given much is expected. African-Americans often are the creators of these art forms, and it is a shame that more of us don't support the arts as a whole. Halle Berry has won, and may be nominated again this year. We now have the chance to support her by going to see Frankie & Alice, a true story of a woman with multiple personality disorder. This is usually the type of movie we as a group avoid, even though undiagnosed mental illness is rampant in our community. Like Tyler Perry, how about expanding your horizons?