For Colored Girls: movie review

Ntozake Shange’s award-winning play ‘For Colored girls’ comes to the screen in a lumpy gumbo of high drama and low melodrama.

Quantrelle Colbert/Lionsgate
Kimberly Elise plays Crystal in Tyler Perry’s acrid adaptation of ‘For Colored Girls.’

Tyler Perry, the most commercially successful African-American filmmaker ("Diary of a Mad Black Woman," "Madea Goes to Jail"), has been criticized, mostly by white critics, for promoting howlingly over-the-top racial stereotypes.

For his new film, he has, improbably, adapted Ntozake Shange's 1975 stage show, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf" – shortened here into the more marquee-friendly "For Colored Girls."

Like "Precious," it centers on the rage and sorrows of black women and, also like that film, it's a lumpy gumbo of high drama and low melodrama.

Shange's play, a feminist anthem, is a series of linked monologues featuring seven African-American dancers, each identified only by the color of her garb. In the movie, Perry, who adapted the play in addition to directing, provides an overarching narrative to link the women, who, with one exception, now all occupy a Harlem tenement.

The connective material isn't nearly as "poetic" as the Shange monologues that periodically interpose. Perry makes no effort to disguise the poetics. He treats them in the same manner as a movie-musical character suddenly breaking into song. It's not an entirely satisfactory approach, but I'm not sure how else he could have made a movie out of this play and retained anything of Shange's flavor.

That flavor is most often acrid, brackish, and bitter, not surprising since the film is focused on heartbreak, rape, disease, religious fanaticism, infertility, and incest – for starters. Perry has assembled a formidable ensemble, including Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Tessa Thompson, Kerry Washington, Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Phylicia Rashad and, in the most searing cameo, Macy Gray as a strung-out abortionist.

The men in this world, played by, among others, Michael Ealy, Omari Hardwick, Khalil Kain, and Hill Harper, are almost uniformly untrustworthy or despicable or both. The women, almost uniformly, are sanctified by their rage – their victimhood.

As skewed and prejudicial as this is, I don't have a big problem with it: Plenty of male-dominated movies are female-phobic, so the payback here seems understandable if not altogether justified. Shange, to her credit, doesn't temper her rage in the service of political correctness. It's just that she overcorrected. "For Colored Girls" is a long wallow in misery and, after a while, the pain morphs into polemic. Grade: B (Rated R for some disturbing violence including a rape, sexual content, and language.)


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