Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Perry's homage to Shange different, but the same (and yes - he got it right!)

I told y'all I was slow - as molasses!  But even for me, this was quite a stretch! I do, however, have an absolutely, wonderful reason for the delay about which I'll post shortly - but first things, first.

If I'd never read the book, or been so personally involved in a small adaptation of the play, I wouldn't have been thrown off as I watched Janet Jackson's "lady in red" character, Jo, icily hurl the following words at her husband, Carl (played by Dark Blue's, Omari Hardwick):

"i'm not goin to be nice
i will raise my voice
& scream & holler
& break things & race the engine
& tell all yr secrets bout yrself to yr face" - lady in blue

But I had, and I was.  So, for a few minutes into the movie I was confused (plus, I didn't like Jo right off the bat, even though I know she surely exists in the Black community; just too, Devil Wears Prada for me.  I am glad she redeemed herself later on though.).  But once I realized what was going on, I comfortably settled in with my stack of napkins I was sure I would need from the concession stand - to enjoy what I found to be the breathtaking beauty that is "For Colored Girls." 

While Perry respectfully distanced his adaptation from the original with a departure from Shange's signature, lower-case title and changing-up the script, let me just say - in the interest of not allowing the movie to completely supplant the original (kinda like when young rap artists sample old R&B tunes, making the sample more or less their own, and then - the next generation tends to have no clue from where it originally came) - READ THE CHOREOPOEMS.  It is so very fundamental to keeping our stories (written by those who really know them), as well as the legacy of Black writers who dared to tell them alive.

Since we're now allegedly living in a "post-racial" nation, I know I'm supposed to say - "Oh yes! This movie is for everybody!"  Can't help you there - and no, "I'm not sorry" about that at all.  Why?  Because I will not diminish this work to make men in general, or white women, in particular, feel better. It was then, and it is now - "for colored girls..." - for every one of us with an intimate understanding of what it's meant to be that - and only that  - in this country.

White women?  Yes, if you go see the film, you will in fact notice, that "we are more alike than we are different" in the eyes of patriarchy.  But we are different.  From the 1955 murder of a young, gregarious Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, to these punk-assed, Seattle cops beating on these Black and Brown girls in 2010 - it goes without saying that your alabaster skin continues to afford you wa-a-ay more protection and privilege than any to which a "colored girl" has ever been able to lay claim.

And even though some of us "colored girls" can (and do!) mimic the privilege you enjoy based on a variety of real and imagined factors - when it comes down to it, yours is the one least likely to be questioned and most likely to be respected.  So yes, let the film speak to you.  But if you visit here to comment, I'd appreciate a real conversation on the merits or drawbacks of the film, without the usual co-opting that tends to make everything all about you, mkay? (A great big thanks to soulsis over at AROOO for making the "usual co-opting" as plain as plain can be at the link above!)

Men?  Put your big boy pants on.  Understand that this beautiful work (both the original and its reincarnation) - IS NOT ABOUT YOU!  It's about me and my sisters - even if some of them don't want to own it.  And though patriarchy is certainly the catalyst for the unspeakable events that befall these women, you are peripheral to the message of these women - both individually and collectively - "living with it, through it and in spite of it" as James Earl Jones once said about slavery. 

Now I know it's difficult for you to understand (given this world has been all about you since creation), but suck it up!  Who knows? You just might learn something about the women with whom you supposedly "share" your lives.  And why so defensive anyway?  If it ain't you - it ain't you!

I loved everyone's performances, personally relating to most of them - so let's get started!
I cannot begin to tell you what a supremely talented, beautiful sister I find in Kimberly Elise!  Her Crystal/"lady in brown" was the most moving of the film for me.  Should there be ANY "awards" chatter going on about this movie, hers should definitely be a name being bandied about.  But based on the 2011 Golden Globe nominations, her chances clearly appear to be slim and none - but one can hope.  As with every role I've seen that she's undertaken, she exuded a confidence, comfort and dedication to her craft that made her character astonishingly real to the observer - whether Hollywood wants to acknowledge it or not.

Her scenes with Beau Willie (played by Sleeper Cell's, Michael Ealy) were both heart- and gut-wrenching. As I watched them, for some reason my mind insisted on pulling to the forefront of my memory, the pitifully uninvestigated death of a mother and her two children here last year though only weak similarities exist:
  1. a history of domestic violence;
  2. the husband was a soldier, but deploying to Afghanistan and wanted not to be married (Damn!  Perry's nod to what this war - in which we have no business being - can do to person should get some props from his male-bashing accusers!); 
  3. two children, his children, died
I kept thinking how these two women were different, but the same.  And given how long it's been since Shange's work debuted - that different, but the same speaks volumes about the devaluation of women's lives and well-being in the patriarchy - still.

Whoopie Goldberg's role was small, but it hit me powerfully, particularly as she spoke the words, "I was too Black, so he gave me to a white man." 

I've heard the first part of that most of my life.  First, from whites trying to distance their supposedly civilized, "human" selves from the chattel that they brought here; then, from members of my family and many of my lighter-hued, Catholic school classmates - all of us steeped in the colorism that racism produced; then, from Black men wanting to creep and sleep with my insecure self, but almost never willing to bring me home to meet their mamas.  And if they were willing, as did two lighter-than-me brothers with whom I fell madly in love (one during high school and one during college), their mamas hated the sight of my Black ass for no other reason than the fact that I was too Black - a fact about which the last mama felt the need to remind me on the regular.  As it turned out though, she did me a huge favor with her disdain.  Coupled with the fact that her abusive, manipulating, "Mr. Louisiana Hot Link" of a son wasn't shit - it catapulted me on this continuing "journey of me" that is now chock-full of loving myself -  first.

While no one gave me to a white man, I am married to a society-identified one who is, in fact, Italian (one of the many ethnicities bathed - by themselves and others - in the Incredible nothingness of "whiteness" after reaching these shores). With the exception of his oldest sister, his family had the same reaction to his marrying me as the two, afore-mentioned mamas .  But this time, I was in love with a man who loved me back (and then some!).  I wasn't going anywhere unless, and until I decided to do so.

Outwardly, my family accepted him.  But during his first visit to South Carolina, I remember walking up on a conversation between my grandmother, mother and aunt on my grandmother's front porch out on the island.  They thought we were both in the yard where he was trying to start the lawnmower, but I'd come in the back door to ask about a gas can - just in time to hear:

Mama:  "I don't know why Debi married that white man! 
Aunt Ginny:  "I tell you!  The first time he call her a nigger, she'll see!"
Grandmama:  "Uh-h-h-huh!"

Born in 1931, 1934 and 1909 respectively in Jim Crow South Carolina, I certainly understood why they felt the way they did.  Hell, I'd be lying like a rug if I said that possibility hadn't crossed my own mind!  I stepped on the porch and asked, "See what?" 

The three of them looked up at me from their chairs and in unison, shook their heads, with my never-at-a-loss-for-words, Aunt Ginny saying, "You act like you don't know how dese people is!"

I told her, "No, I do know.  Guess we'll ALL just have to see if he's like dem or not."

So far, this 30-year journey, which has included its share of "trials and tribulations" based on often, diametrically opposed realities - has shown that he's not "like dem."  At least not in the way they thought he'd be.  And we still deal with the real and perceived constructs of privilege; and patriarchy; and race; and racism - daily.  Born and bred as we each were in these United States, how can we not?  But I figure, as long as we keep facing this shit, instead of duckin'-n-dodgin' and/or running away (no real choice when you're living with me!) - we'll be fine.  And if not?  Well, I'll just have to let Loretta Devine's, "lady in green"/Juanita, uttering the words of Shange's "lady in red" answer that!:

One other familiar thing about the all-white-wearing "Alice," was the striking resemblance to the women on the Deaconess and Usher Boards in my grandmother's rural A.M.E. church in all their flawed, religious fervor.  Being a South Carolina girl whose roots run deep in the Sea Islands, I know those women pret-ty well!
  • I was very impressed with young, Tessa Thompson's, Nyla/"lady in purple."  When I saw her face, I immediately remembered her "Billie," from an episode of Cold Case (Yeah, I used to watch way too much TV!). She was a teen-aged, gay, Black girl, who dressed in men's clothes and - to her detriment - fell in love with a young white girl  in the 60s.  They stole the girl's brother's car and tried to run away to be together, but he found out, chased them across a bridge and the car spun out, crashing through the guardrail into the water.  In that moment, the little white girl, though she said she loved Billie, saw her future - and was afraid.  Rather than facing that fear of things to come, she saved herself and purposely left Billie to die.  I knew I'd see this young lady again, and I'm glad it was in this film.
  • Macy Gray's delivery of "i used to live in the world..." as the back-alley abortionist was riveting, conjuring up memories of the prevalent, "coat-hangar" abortions back in the day that Black women underwent because that's all they could afford.  Her and Tessa's scene together snatched me right back to high school - and my friend, Pam, who had to tell her mother she'd been pregnant because her legs were temporarily paralyzed for weeks after going to see one of those women who "used to live in the world."
  • And I know every, single one of us knew, or know Felicia Rashaad's, Gilda - the neighborhood busybody who, unlike Gladys Kravitz, was not just nosy and in e'erybody's business - she gave two shits about you too (even though she got on your last damned nerve sometimes!).  My growing-up Gilda was Miss Ruby.  She lived upstairs above us in our rented, run-down, two-story "Charleston Single House" (Yes, it is a particular architectural style unique to Charleston, SC) with her two daughters.  There was no Mr. Ruby.  On weekends, she'd be laughin', clappin' and stompin' on the ceiling around noon - our cue that wrasslin' was on TV. When I was little, I'd go upstairs on her porch and play with my Coke-bottle baby (knotted piece of rope stuck in the neck of a Coke bottle, then untwined and, Voila! - long, silky hair to comb, brush and braid. Now THAT, along with the colorism, certainly negatively reinforced a whole lot of shit about appearance and womanhood that I would eventually have to own, and with which I'd spend a big chunk of my life dealing!). I remember once, during commercials, she patiently helped me hand-sew a little shift-dress for my "baby" from a piece of orange and white scrap material my Mama'd given me (that woman could sew!). She was always on her porch, leaning on the railing when we were due home from school since we were latch-key kids because Mama and Daddy were both working on the Navy Base. She'd check on the three of us to make sure we were doing what we were supposed to (cooking, cleaning and homework before we even thought about going outside!). And if we weren't - she met my Mama at the door downstairs to tell her about it when she got home.  The "village" raised us, and it was good.
  • "Being colored is a metaphysical dilemma I haven't conquered yet." The delivery of that line by Thandie Newton's, Tangie/"lady in orange" was perfect, perfect, perfect! Alice's explanation of how she and Nyla came to be, coupled with Ms. Newton's real-life, different-but-the-same experience as a European, "colored girl" - makes her character's "metaphysical dilemma," manifested in that fiercely destructive personality, easily understandable. She reminds me of one of my aunts-by-marriage who, way fairer than my uncle, had struggled for a long time trying to "fit in" in a community - and a family who first saw her only as that "red gal with the "good hair" and green eyes."
  • Anika Noni Rose delivered her "lady in yellow"/Yasmine's cautionary tale with such raw emotion that I wanted to jump up out of my seat and take that brotha out! Like it or not fellas, there are many of "these men friends of ours" lurking in our midst.
  • And finally, Kerry Washington's, Kelly/"lady in blue" epitomizes - through her character's preoccupation with having kids - the way in which we get so wrapped up in our own shit, that we fail to see our sister-friend in need - right under our noses. My sister-friend, Veronica in DC forwarded this to me after I saw the movie. It pretty much sums up what "Kelly" came to understand and I co-sign every bit of it:
Something to Read and Think About!

When I first heard of the movie "For Colored Girls" I got so excited. I had the idea of getting as many women together that I could think of to go see this movie. I had visions of group discussions and moments shared with one another that would lead to healing and growth, I guess I kind of imagined a Womens Empowerment Conference type of setting.

Well, after I shared my idea with a few women, reality set in and I realized that so many of us wouldn't be willing to participate for various reasons: You don't like me, you don't care for somebody I might invite, you only hang out with certain people, you don't understand the big deal about Tyler Perry making yet another movie about black people and our issues for all the world to see, you don't like crowds, so n so is too ghetto, such and such is too uppity etc... It has ALWAYS amazed me that we as black women are each others biggest critics. We are the quickest to bring each other down, find each others faults and nit pick at a sister until she has nothing left, nothing left to give and then we step over her and call her worthless. We take the prettiest women and tear them down for thinking "they are cute" but turn around and dog the average sista because "she know she should take better care of herself than that - can't believe she got a man!" We call strong women female dogs and accuse weaker women of riding somebody else's coat tails. We tell a big sista to put down her burger and turn around and criticize a skinny woman for not picking one up. We ride the loud mouth woman for "talking too darn much" and likewise torment the quiet woman for "Being too quiet and needing to take up for herself." Sad part is, we don't discriminate, we talk about everybody!!!

I've watched women dog out everybody from Oprah for catering to white people and Halle Berry for not being able to keep a man, to young Willow Smith for acting too darn grown in her recent video. All of these females are successful and there is something about each one of them to be proud of, but a lot of us can't seem to see that. I have to wonder since we all share a common thread (whether we want to admit it or not) is there something about ourselves that we don't like, what has happened to us that we cannot seem to get along. Why is it that we fight amongst ourselves, backstab & steal each others men (only to find out we should have left him where we found him). We cannot seem to be unified to support and stick up for one another. Everybody seems to be out for themselves while other groups unite against us but, nobody else has to bring us down because we trample on the spirits of each other daily.

Even if you live in a mini mansion, drive a luxury car, have good credit, rich handsome husband etc, this does not mean that you should look down your nose at the woman with 4 kids, no husband, living in income-based housing, struggling to keep her lights on. We ALWAYS think the grass is greener on the other side. I had a woman whose child's father is MIA tell me that I should never complain because I receive a decent amount of child support and I laughed and let her know that I would gladly give every dime back if he would come relieve some of this overwhelming pressure of feeling inadequate as a parent. If I could get just one full night of sleep, or not always be on the verge of losing my job because I'm the one that has to call off or leave work for one reason or another to accommodate my child - yeah he could DEFINITELY have his money if I could have some peace! Money alone doesn't make you happy (not true happiness), good credit doesn't keep you satisfied, beauty doesn't make you any less insecure, fame doesn't make you less vulnerable or cause you to be a good judge of character, and being stuck up and mean doesn't keep you warm at night or prevent you from being lonely.

You don't know how the sista sitting right next to you could have carefully put on her make up this morning to hide the beating from last night. The teacher you handed your child over to this morning could have sent her children off to school from a dark house with empty bellies. The teller you just got rude with at the bank could know that today is her last day on her job and have no idea how she is going to survive past next weekend. The sista at the office that appears so busy could be typing her goodbyes to all the people that she loves because she plans to blow her brains out tonight after she tucks her babies into bed. The woman you pass in the hallway could be on her way to have an abortion because she fears what others might think or how the woman that sent you this e-mail may drink an over abundance of alcohol every night to mask the nightmares of an abusive childhood.

Ladies we HAVE TO DO BETTER!!! I'm not suggesting that we all like each other and be phony, but I am asking that we all try to respect each other. You HAVE NO IDEA what the next woman is going through.  You don't know what past or current hurt and pains have shaped her into who she is today. We spend so much time trying to be as strong and hard as we are expected to be, that we end up cracking from the inside out, piece by piece. If we would spend 1/3 of the time we spend tearing each other down to build someone up, encourage someone, show someone some love, we could truly make a difference and save someone's life. PLEASE don't be the straw that breaks another woman's back. Believe me when I tell you that there is a woman out there that needs your smile, your hug, your support, your prayer.

I hope that you read this and get something out of it other than a laugh and that you pass this on to as many women as you can to let someone know that you believe they are somebody special and that if need be, you are available to listen. Nothing bad is going to happen if you don't forward this e-mail but I'd like to think that something positive will happen if you choose to pass it along. May favor be extended to each and everyone of your lives, keep your head up and know that someone somewhere cares!!!
I'm sure, for a number of reasons, both business and personal, Tyler Perry and all the actresses really care whether or not EVERYONE loves this film - but selfishly, I don't. I'm going to cherish this film like it was made just for me, because generationally, it seemed it was (if that makes any sense). With a stellar cast of great actresses and a "her-story" rooted in our realities - Mr. Perry most definitely got it right!

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