Tuesday, November 30, 2010

#forcoloredgirls who raise their babies on mother-wit when Tyler Perry is not enuf

My Noodle surprises me everyday with things she knows that I didn't know she knew, ya know?

Like the hippopotamus she identified on her cup (shouldn't I have explained that already)

...Or similarities between dead and sleep:

Noodle: "That man dead, Mommy."
Me: "No, he's sleep...wait a minute...How do you know what 'dead' is?"

..Or that "Almost There" is her favorite song from Princess & The Frog...from all the others...and yet, everytime she sings, "And I'm allllmmooosssstttt tttthhheeeerrreee. BOOM, Mommy!" she has to note the falling of the pillars at the end of the song, perhaps Disney's comedic rib-shot at this grown ass colored girl really thinking she's going to buy this massive property and be the queen of her destiny. BOOM!

Perhaps my bourgie babe knows the deal. She's got her eye on the man and she's going to stick it to him ad hominem style. Or maybe its just a catchy tune. BOOM!

That BOOM had never been louder when a friend and I went to see For Colored Girls, Tyler Perry's surgically altered womb of a tale.

I wholly believe in the power of the female voice. Our words, our songs, our love, our network: think double-dutch as an artform for my colored girls. It embodies the ties that bind us. The songs that keep us in step. The constraints of our paradox.

What I wasn't prepared for was the brutal, tragic, and bitter portrayal of women who seemed less victorious and more embattled than their beginning with the exception of Loretta Devine's character. She knew her lover-in-residence had run off with "a simple bitch with a bad attitude" but that didn't keep her from creating that vessel for which the other women could pour up a cup of mother-wit. Mother wit: the substantive nature of women who instinctually nurture from that part of them that is the recuperation of their ancestors - humorous, brash, wise - everything Madea attempts to be. These are the women who know that good bras, panties, and girdles are the root of our foundation. Can't have all your stuff hanging out or you just might lose it.

I compelled myself to want to really like each colored girl and love them fiercely for what they represented to our struggle. Red, blue, green, purple, yellow, white...but each woman was flawed, blazingly distorted, through Perry's own lens, all carrying destroyed wombs, whether it was destroyed by HIV, untreated STDs, abortion, infidelity, post-traumatic stress disorder, rape, and religion. At every turn, I saw a woman destroyed, rumpled up like paper and thrown in the corner in tears, literally. When does she rise? Was it supposed to be at the moment when all the women encircle Kimberly Elise's character on the roof and her manic declaration of "I found god in myself and i loved her - i loved her fiercely!"

Or Thandie Newton's cocaine chic portrayal of a young woman who should have been adorned in glitter and butterflies...and yet, all is forgiven and lives to be the life of the party because Mama ain't gonna change, now go to college!

Or maybe its Janet Jackson's (what's a weaker synonym for "stirring") confrontation with her down-low, HIV positive husband and she has all these sorries greeting her at the front door. Did she rise up from the ashes of her marriage or was it when she was told that HIV drugs have come a loooonnnngggg way since the 80s and she has to hope to live. I guess now's a perfect time to be philanthropic and learn to be nice to people since you saw your abused co-worker's children thrown from the window.

Or was it seeing Anika Noni-Rose's triumphant return to her dance studio, dancing in the spirit of Sechita, willing away her shame by her latent rapist. The voice behind my bourgie babe's favorite song and movie. BOOM! a woman who kicked viciously thru the nite catchin stars tween her toes. What I was not prepared for was to see this brutal rape. I felt a communal leering about the threatre. Silence. I felt my hands clench the arms of the theatre chair, my anxiety welling up...this latent rapist was upon us. women relinquish all personal rights when in the presence of a man who apparently cd be considered a rapist. BOOM!

Tyler Perry attempted to turn this beautiful choreopoem into something it was not, a man's portrayal and homage to women's struggles. This film needed a laying on of hands...simply allowing a wonderful assemblage of Black women to star in these roles is not enough. Their needed to be a laying of the hands on the script. With the last words being yelled to me at the end did not ring true for me. It seemed hysterical, livid, deeply morose, a realization made before the recuperation. Keep this in mind:

(from After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement by Cheryl Clarke)

I have seen several theatrical performances of this play and remember the wonder of the PBS American Playhouse production (1982) I found in the public library I worked in as an undergraduate back in the 90s. Directed by Oz Scott, screenplay written by Ntozake Shange, starring Alfre Woodard, Lynn Whitfield, and Shange as herself, this portrayal set the precedent for me. So imagine my confusion when I witness the clumsiness of the dialogue, the lack of fluidity between the characters, their words, and connection, the viciousness and coldness of the male presence. It lacked the communal responsibility of a woman's story told by herself and her reflections.

Maybe I'm a sucker for a linear story, the accursed Tyler Perry plot line. I wanted to walk away feeling that a woman's struggle and ultimate empowerment and joy is real. We are not just broken bodies with bitter hearts. Colored girls have a lot to teach this world and despite the failures and fallacies of the laden male voice on womanist subjectivity, we cannot convince ourselves that Tyler Perry is the "new voice" for Black women. I'd rather take some mother-wit from a brown, braided double dutch girl.