So, I went to see “For Colored Girls” this weekend. I didn’t really like it, but I didn’t know how to go about saying why not. But I think I have put my finger on it.
When I was first exposed to the play by Ntozake Shange, I was a young girl. My mother had gone to see it, which was unusual. I have very few memories of my mother getting dressed to go out, so I knew that this was an important event. I didn’t go, of course, but I have a vague memory of Mama coming home, impressed, or maybe emotionally spent.
I read the play and saw a production of it when I was a student at Spelman College. I remember feeling moved by the tragic scenes, but also amused by the more light-hearted monologues, and ultimately SEEN by the story.
Although I was about seventeen years old and didn’t know much about such heavy business, I could empathize with the actors’ emotions. At the time, one of my biggest concerns in life was Not. To. Get. Pregnant. So the abortion monologue represented my greatest fear come to life. At the understatement, “I was pregnant and ashamed of myself,” I wanted to run on stage and give the actress a hug.
And the monologue about the little girl who discovers Toussaint L’oevuture in the library- that was me! And the little hard-headed boy she met afterwards, Toussaint Jones- I had a little boy like that in my life. His name was Roy. (And I loooooved him like only a ten year old can.)
And, to be honest, I am sure the production of the play I saw couldn’t have been very good. Teenage actors reading “Beau Willie Brown?” We really didn’t have much “stuff” for somebody to run off with. But still, there was something of US in there and, as the play said, “we loved her fiercely.”
Flash forward twenty years and I am going to see “For Colored Girls”, the movie. In theory, I should be even more affected as I have enough miles on my personal odometer that some of the experienced in the play are my own, too.
But, something about this movie locked me out. I wasn’t able to identify with anyone. All I could think was, “That’s not me.” Janet Jackson’s type-A career woman looked like what people who wanted to keep me back warned me I would become if I kept achieving– hard, unlovable, emasculating brothers left and right with all that scary accomplishment.
Maybe it was the hyperbole that got me. Who gets a back-alley abortion in 2010? The back-alley-ness eclipsed any thoughts about what it means to be a pregnant teenager “and ashamed of myself.” Terminating a pregnancy is plenty serious and plenty scary even when performed in a clean, well-lighted clinic– which is most women’s experience.
Ntozake Shange made being a “colored girl” serious business, a dangerous proposition, a “metaphysical dilemma” to be conquered, but a rich life if you worked on it.
Watching this movie, I felt like the film makers were saying, “Black girl, it sucks to be you.” (Side bar: Dear Whoppi, in the name of Pecola Breedlove, please stop accepting roles that require you to describe yourself as “ugly”.)
And don’t even get me started on the men! Y’all know I am a black woman of nearly 40 years, so I have seen some thangs. But the men in this movie are the low-downest, dirtiest, no-count– yet preternaturally sexy and shirtless– men I have ever heard of. I couldn’t help but think, “Why don’t I ever get dogged out by somebody that looks like that!”
But seriously, I vote with Linda Villarosa here. This production reduced the men to menaces with six packs. I am no apologist for men and their misogyny but this was way way over the top. If I didn’t see myself in the film, Lord knows I didn’t see my daddy, my brothers, or even my trifling ex boyfriend. (Not calling no names, but if he reads this, he’ll know it’s bad that it didn’t even remind me of him!)
It’s an amazing and affirming thing to see yourself in art. That mirror can be the things that convinces you that you really exist, that you really matter. But with this movie, it was like looking into a funhouse mirror– and despite some gorgeous performances by the actors– I saw myself and everyone I love pulled stretched and bent until I couldn’t recognize us anymore.