As a critical intercultural scholar and activist, I struggle with Tyler Perry’s adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf. While fair to honor Perry’s good intentions and praise him for reigniting interest in Shange’s choreopoems, it is equally important to politicize his work. With regard to domestic violence from a Black feminist standpoint, Perry privileges patriarchy by engaging in victim-blaming despite Shange’s commitment to humanizing and celebrating Black women.
From my perspective, Perry situates Crystal, The Lady in Brown, as deserving of her pain, too weak to protect herself and her children, and at fault for the murders. In this scene, Crystal is chauffeured home to retrieve a forgotten work document. This is where the victim-blaming begins since it was Crystal’s mistake that brought her home; it continues with the matriarch stereotype that positions her at fault for emasculating, and subsequently enraging, Beau Willie by refusing to marry him. Poignant is his question before letting go: “You gonna marry me bitch?” Without intervention, we are left to think “if only Crystal had married him, he would have been more secure and their children would be alive” or to wonder “why didn’t she just say she would marry him?”, rather than “he just abused his partner and murdered their children in a jealous rage.”
With similar victim-blaming tenor were the lines of Gilda who frantically searched for help during this scene. After the murders when Crystal forlornly asks, “How could he do it?” Gilda answers with, “It wasn’t just him, honey…You had to stop him long before he got to that window” followed by “What I’m sayin Crystal is you gonna have to take responsibility in some of this. How much of it you take is up to you, but you gotta take some of it.” From a Black feminist standpoint, I raise my struggles to highlight how Perry’s screenplay undermines Shange’s original intentions by normalizing men’s violence against women. Although appreciative of some aspects of Perry’s film, the narrative stemming from this scene falls incredibly short from my Black feminist stance.
As a professor of Black theater, I found myself conflicted with the rise of student and popular interest in Perry's film version of Shange's important text, particularly because most people were believing this film to be true to the Ntozake Shange play that they had never read. Whenever I was asked about the film outside of the classroom, I found myself calling it "an adaptation that was influenced by..." and encouraged everyone I could to read the play BEFORE seeing the film. If his film is now going to stand in as the representative version of Shange's choreopoem, your post (and the nuanced textual analysis you provide) gives me hope that the importance of Shange's Black feminist standpoint can be reignited (at least in the classroom) if we put these texts in conversation with each other and privilege the intentions of Shange's original. Although hopeful, from a performance standpoint, I add to your critique of the dangerous normalization of domestic violence in the film, my own troubled view of the seeming loss of care and/or consideration for the masterful congruence of Shange's aesthetics, movement, and poetic lyricism that I, at least, fall in love with every time I read "for colored girls..." Thank you for your post!
Yes, READ the original!
Dr. Shaw, I appreciate your emphasis on Shange's original work and can identify with having to "qualify" the film in conversations that seem to conflate the two. When I focus on Perry's For Colored Girls in workshops, keynotes, etc. I talk about the ways that he "undoes" Black Feminist art given that he intertwines the original lines, centers Black males, and polices Black womanhood alongside the normalization of violence against Black women. For me, it renders his film paradoxical in that the film has also reignited interest in Shange's important work and does have powerful moments for Black female identification with the characters. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Rachel
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