Movie Mom

Movie Mom

For Colored Girls

posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for some disturbing violence including a rape, sexual content and language
Profanity:Very strong and explicit language
Nudity/Sex:Very explicit sexual references and situations
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, drug references
Violence/Scariness:Graphic rape and abortion scenes and tense confrontations
Diversity Issues:A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date:November 5, 2010
DVD Release Date:February 8, 2011

Tyler Perry’s films frustrate critics and commentators, who are bothered by the awkward mash-ups of high melodrama and low humor and by what many people think is an exaggerated and biased portrayal of men as abusive, neglectful, incompetent, and/or disloyal. And yet, their unprecedented success — he has never had a flop — shows that they speak to the audience in a powerful way. His new film, the first based on material from another writer, reflects a more literary ambition but it is likely to create the same divide between those find that it feels true to their experience and those who think it still aims too low and is likely to perpetuate prejudice inside and outside the African-American community.

Ntozake Shange (born Paulette Williams) was only 23 years old when her groundbreaking “choreopoem” called “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” first astonished audiences in 1975. The ferocity and rage of the theatrical experience spoke to generations of women, especially women of color, who felt for the first time that they were seeing themselves and people they knew center stage. There was no Oprah back then. The idea of a black woman speaking honestly about her struggles for respect from others and from herself felt revolutionary.

The play’s characters were symbols, their only names the colors of the clothes they wore. They spoke very frankly about topics seldom addressed publicly, much less on stage, and much, much less from the woman’s side of the experience: rape, molestation, betrayal, and oppression. With dance and poetry they expressed their longing for love and acceptance despite the best efforts of individuals, religious organizations, and society at large to make them feel less than beautiful and less than lovable. This was an era when “the personal is political” was a mantra for women who were beginning to question millennia of traditional notions of what they were and how much potential there was for them.

A great deal has changed since 1975, including the emergence of Perry, one of the choreopoem’s biggest fans and clearly influenced by it, as a major power player in Hollywood. Perry has become an omnimedia mogul with live theater, DVDs, films like “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and “Madea Goes to Jail” and the television series “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne,” along with the best-seller, Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life. The very power behind and in front of the camera, with nine well-known actresses, provides some counterpoint that puts at risk the unrelenting direness of these characters’ lives.

And yet, these words and these stories may still resonate with any woman who has struggled to love herself enough to expect and deserve love from others. While the nine main characters in and out of each other’s lives have their own stories, they can be seen as different aspects of one woman, or of all women. Tangie (a sizzling Thandie Newton) is almost feral as a bartender who uses men for sex, thinking it makes her the strong one. Her mother, Alice (Whoopi Goldberg), who thinks she gets strength from religious fervor and judgment. Alice is furious with Tangie but thinks that her other daughter, Nyla (the incandescent Tessa Thompson), is close to perfect. Which is why Nyla can’t tell Alice the truth about how much trouble she is in.

Crystal (Kimberly Elise) thinks she has the strength to care for her children, her demanding employer, and the man in her life who loves her deeply but is mentally unstable following his experience in the military. Juanita (Loretta Devine) does not know if she can trust the man she loves. Jasmine (Anika Noni Rose) does not know that she cannot trust the man who seems so gentlemanly. Kelly (Kerry Washington), a social worker, is the only woman in this film who has a man she can trust and rely on, is so concerned about whether she can conceive (due to abuse from another man) that she neglects one of her clients, with tragic consequences. And Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) sees it all and does her best to warn, to teach, and to help.

Perry just sketches in enough story to provide settings for the poetic monologues and he shows some appealing delicacy in balancing the gritty reality of the women’s lives with the more lyrical qualities of their speeches, beautifully delivered by actresses of great talent and beauty. At its best, it has a dreamlike quality and some of the speeches are beautifully done. The film makes a brave effort to show that the victims of abuse have to take responsibility for acting as enablers. But some of the material seems as outdated as the title, and the unrelenting melodrama gets out of hand near the end with an unfortunate speech about being sorry that does not work, despite the best efforts of Janet Jackson. Perry clearly cherishes all of these women, the performers on screen and the characters they play, and the sincerity of his devotion to them and to the material keeps what is on screen watchable even when it does not work as a film.

  • cain

    For me…this movie did WORK! My stuff, means to the narrow minded it means what is says in a sexual/vulgar way. But to the thinker…it means he took my spirit, my mind, my heart, my emotions, my body…he took everything I had (my stuff) and walked out the door with it under his arm in a paper bag. And I watched him do it. This movie…grows on me more and more as the day passes. Because it is one that deserves great thought. The rape scene (that woman, was on top of the world…she had a air about her that was so beautiful…its like she believed in magic, her smile was so big and so happy. She was NOT careless, but still…as careful and precaucious as she was, it was not careful ENOUGH… This man, preyed on her and took her (he took her stuff). If you noticed, after the rape, she lost her identity…yes, she danced to relieve pain…but, she was so hurt. She didn’t feel like waking up to beautify herself…she all of sudden felt like, I’m not living…I just exist. This movie…I must take a deep breath and applaud Tyler (once again)!!!!!

  • cain

    The title…right on point. For some reason, the one that black women should ALWAYS be able to depend on…ALWAYS be able to rely on the fact that they would understand (black men). Have decided to turn their backs on “black women”. And they not only feel this way, they comfortably speak on the subject. Forgetting their very own background. Forgetting they were and still are contributors of the pain felt by many black women. As the movie said. I hear you (men) referring to women as “Hoes and Bitches”.
    Look at the way black women are portrayed in videos and etc. Yes, they are doing this VOLUNTARILY..However, men and women attract (thats the way the human race was desinged). If I’m a black woman looking for a black man to love me. I’m going to pay close attention to what ATTRACTS the black man. The vibe the Black men give is they want a hoochie, a sex driven/ freak. So, majority of the women try to do that to achieve the man. To find out in the end, thats not what he wanted at all. Black men…take responsibility to how you have contributed!

  • cain

    My love is too SPECIAL!

  • Nell Minow

    Beautiful comments, Cain, and you have my deepest appreciation for sharing these touching and heartfelt thoughts. I remember when the play first came out being so touched by the way it connected with me as a young woman. I think the movie is uneven, but beautifully performed and I felt its power. The “stuff” monologue is one of my favorites.

  • Saima

    This moving was just awesome – and it was not only for colored girls – it applies to all women — from the east and the west and from up and from down. I do wish that it was explained in the movie as well that this can be anyone – being colored may mean being raped, or bein abused or being afraid or being hurt or being watched or being a women or being a healer or bein spiritual or being oneself —- I loved your work – I loved your voice in this movie —- What an excellent peice of work — Thank you Tyler Perry —- Regards, Saima

  • Nell Minow

    And thank you, Salma, for this wonderful comment. It warmed my heart.

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