One of the first clues that Tyler Perry wanted to up his clout in Hollywood as a director with his latest film could be found in the film’s title, For Colored Girls -the film escaped the pompous banners of his usual “Tyler Perry’s….” It was also evident that Tyler wanted to pay as much respect to the screen adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s 1970s stage classic, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf as possible. Though it was one of the most anticipated films of 2010, For Colored Girls, just released on DVD, found that its biggest challenge was receiving the acclaim that it sought.
Starring a long list of well known and new actresses, For Colored Girls is an anecdotal and pensive narrative with no singular story line. Broken hearts, domestic abuse, and infidelity are just some of the issues tackled, none of which are ground breaking topics in movies. Yet, the delivery in which these numerous topics are brought together through a coincidental sequence of events easily made For Colored Girls a standout among the 2010 releases.
The title of For Colored Girls is actually misleading. The circumstances in which the women of For Colored Girls find themselves aren’t any more exclusive to black women than Chinese food is for Asian people. From the genteel dance instructor Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose) to the rigid magazine editor Jo (Janet Jackson), all of these women have universal stories to share and a hurdle to get over, and in the process, the film echoes similar sentiments of The Vagina Monologues and The Women of Brewster Place.
Aesthetically and creatively, For Colored Girls is simply beautiful. The cinematography wonderfully highlights the colors associated with each character, such as the green of Juanita (Loretta Devine) or the blues of Kelly (Kerry Washington) and what their hues represent. Almost like a butterfly, the camera effortlessly swoops from one woman to the next, unbeknownst connecting them to each other. Perry not only had the challenge of adapting a play into a working screenplay, it’s a play built mostly around individual monologues. With the help of visuals, Perry was able to keep the poetics alive and well in the film.
Despite the quality of talent and technical prowess, For Colored Girls was not a flawless endeavor. Part of the problem: Even with all of the melo-dramatic touting of the movie, overall it was anticlimatic. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of "gasp and grief," but the script didn’t sustain what the film was shooting for overall: an unforgettable poignant film. For example, when Crystal (Kimberly Elise) endures possibly the greatest tragedy one could experience, the story seems to have sewn up without much more attention given to the aftermath of her experience. Perhaps there were too many story lines to give too much attention to one story over the other. But, cutting a few of the characters may have taken this film to its anticipated status of greatness.
For all of its artistry and technical splendor the best thing about this film hands down is the actresses and what they brought to this project. Oh how good it was to see the Academy Award winning actress Whoopi Goldberg back on the silver screen where she belongs. Goldberg was sensational as Alice, the overzealously religious yet doting mother of her dancing daughter Nyla (Tessa Thompson). And then there’s Gilda (Phylicia Rashad), the nosy landlord who recites that “Ordinary, brown-braided woman with big legs and full lips... you become yourself.” was like listening to a wise grandmother over a hot cup of tea …the kind that warms the soul. My only complaint was not seeing even more of Mrs. Rashad! Even Macy Gray’s small part as the underground “doctor” Rose was un-for-gettable! Believe me, every actress in this movie made the most out what they were given and then some. Anyone of them could have arguably been nominated for something, but for me, the one standout was Thandie Newton. Thandie was incredible and she brought the most compelling performance as Tangie, a woman who gets “around” for all the wrong reasons.
Aside from the African American Film Critics Association, and a few other minority associations, it’s unfortunate that not a single actress from For Colored Girls received a nomination elsewhere among the plethora of awards, especially the Academy Awards. Whereas the entire group of actresses in this year’s Oscar best supporting actress category gave descent to good performances, I beg to differ that these were the “best” five of the year. Neither Helena Bonham Carter nor Melissa Leo’s performances was as gripping as half of the cast of For Colored Girls. The argument that more black actors would be nominated if more quality parts were available is antiquated and starting to lose credibility. Here is one of the most eminent African American films of the year, and it was still ignored entirely. I said that For Colored Girls isn’t for just for black women, but apparently the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences thought otherwise.
With that said, I am not claiming for a second that For Colored Girls was the best picture of the year, yet I do feel that Tyler Perry deserves a little more than an E for effort. The task of adapting an acclaimed play to a feature film was a daunting task. As a director who’s still a work in progress, Perry met the task as best as Perry could, and his growth was evident. For Colored Girls was one of the few films of the year that successfully meshed artistic film making, poetry, and acting, and exposed the great pool of underused talent of black actress out there. Despite having THE best ensemble cast of the year, a screenplay based on an award winning play, and a director who has defied box office success, For Colored Girls wasn’t great… but it was certainly a memorable movie!