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.


Knowledge of Unionomics said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Knowledge of Unionomics said...

I really need to read this damn book! Apparently I'm the only Black male who didn't hate the movie, hell I even liked it.

Not to say that it was perfect: the dialogue sucked in some places and the ending felt stunted(he's NEVER been good at endings lol).

But it seems that your biggest issue was that the strong but struggling women of the play were transformed into victims. Is that correct?

If so, I'd blame that on the ending. Tyler Perry likes to wrap up problems neatly and quickly, and life just doesn't happen that way. If you show 8 women with huge problems, who all solve their problems at the same time, in the same way, together, in one fell swoop, I'm calling shenanigans! A more nuanced resolution would have helped a lot

April said...

great commentary

‎"This film needed a laying on of hands..." .............. I chuckled.

but u did give me something to think about... my sis and i have had several discussions about the movie in comparison to the original poems. there were definite points in the film where i was just like "huh??"

LisaDCooper said...

I went to the theater very excited. I was overjoyed to see the brothers---brothers in the theater; beautiful brothers on the screen. Then, as you say: Boom! I felt a similar “communal leering about the theater” “silence”. I left dumbfounded; unable to grapple with my thoughts and feelings for a review. Thank-you for articulating, “...women who seemed less victorious and more embattled”. For rendering the ending “a realization made before the recuperation”. My only familiarity with, For Colored Girls…” prior to, Tyler Perry’s movie was a community theater adaptation, produced by another man. It was wonderful! For me, the collapse of Perry’s version was not just a lacking in the midst of “a man's portrayal and homage to women's struggles”. It was the male presence on the screen. Those beautiful brothers facilitated a brutal cognizance, that my/your perspective of reality may not be trustworthy, and my/your dreams can be shattered in an instance. The brothers’ command on the screen got in the way of a believable reclamation by the sistas.

N said...

For me the movie was heavy--extremely heavy. I was left in silence hoping I'd figure out what I was feeling but I couldn't. I did enjoy the movie for the most part, but the mixture between poetry and prose was a bit much. If this makes sense, I kind of felt "stuck" after I saw the movie, like there was and will never be any redemption for those characters, that they were all part of a vicious cycle and oh well. I know it's not the job of every film maker to make a hero out of every character, but I needed to see at least two or three clear cut victories to feel there was some type of payoff from lingering in the darkness.

Melonee said...

@Knowledge My fellowman, you must read the book! you will definitely not see these women as victims. The power of the choreopoem/play had its life sucked out of it. Though I love the work of men, but for this play that was uniquely universally but embellished in Black, Tyler Perry has a limited scope in terms of thematics and artfulness. Its like taking a graffiti artist and having them draw up plans to build a skyscraper. Though meaningful and beautiful in the urban landscape, they are not equipped with the skills to build the infrastructure. Perry does not have the tools for the womanist infrastructure. Our stories are delicate and rigid; they thrive in a paradox in which trying to reinterpret them is a work of genius.

Melonee said...

@N My thoughts exactly! So glad I'm not alone in these feelings of unrest and short fallen expectations. I mean, seriously, going in, I said to myself that maybe Tyler Perry had finally got his chance to redeem himself on his casual observers and followers...those of us who meander on the outskirts of cannon...but still knowing that this is still just a "Tyler Perry film."

But to address your point that these characters are part of a vicious cycle...even in Shange's play/choreopoem, you still have a sense that when these women wake up the next day, those issues are still going to be with them, but there is some hope that when they hold themselves fiercely against the patriarchy it gives you a bit of hope. But the film just shows us the tragedy of our lives and then tells us, well you gotta go to work in the morning! That leering and lingering we felt may just be our angst wanting to scream out and just say ENOUGH ALREADY!

Knowledge of Unionomics said...

riiiiiiiiiiiight...I'll check the book out soon