Monday, 13 December 2010

For Colored Girls

There has been a lot of reviews and discussions on this show all (of which I have read) and one thing that has become clear about For Colored Girls is that it is indeed a contentious film. When you have a director as controversial as Tyler Perry making a film based on the iconic play and book (For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When Rainbow is Enuf) by Ntozake Shange which is much loved then you are going to have drama. The thing about books is that they lead itself for the reader to have a sense of ownership; for while films are watched with others you are really reading a book alone. This act allows you to create an image in your head about which you hold close to your heart and it is no different with For Colored Girls. To get up to speed, For Colored Girls actually started life as a play back in 1975 and has been performed on Broadway and in 1977 it was adapted into a book of 20 poems. The theme of the book is expressing the many struggles of African-American women. The play features seven women who represent a specific shade of colour aka Lady in Yellow and Lady in White and hence the title.
Now this brings me onto the film itself which has a wonderful cast consisting of Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Kimberley Elise, Anii Noni Rose, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad. Hill Harper, Michael Ealy, Omari Hardwick and Khalil Kain play the male supporting roles. All nine female characters have entwining stories that link them to one another and each female represents a particular colour. Gilda played by Phylicia Rashad is the busy body manager of a rundown apartment complex in Harlem which is occupied by Crystal who is in an abusive relationship with her partner and father of two child, Beau Willie who is played by Michael Ealy. The other tenants are Juanita played by Loretta Devine who has given her heart to the wrong man and Tangie played by Thandie Newton, a promiscuous barmaid who picks up men and discards them quickly. Tangie has a really destructive relationship with her mother, Alice played by Whoopi Goldberg who is a sanctimonious bible basher and who has placed all her hopes and dreams on her youngest daughter and Tangie's little sister, Nyla played by Tessa Thompson who is about to go off to college. Nyla also takes dance lessons at a class run by Yasmine played by Anika Noni Rose who is a lady full of passion, energy and a light that is about to be smashed to pieces by her suiter, Bill played by Khalil Kain. Joanna played by Janet Jackson is the editor of a glossy magazine and also Crystal's boss. Cold and intimidating, Joanna rules her office with an iron fist but she is unable to keep tabs on her husband, Carl played Omari Hardwick who steps out with other men. Kelly played by Kerry Washington is a social worker who is concerned about the welfare of Crystal's two children but is struggling with the fact that she cannot have a baby with her husband, Donald played by Hill Harper. Tough issues such as sexual abuse, infidelity, rape, domestic violence, abortion and abandonment are covered here but is it a horrific tragedy that brings all of the nine women together and makes them realise their strength.
First of all I LOVED this movie, I can quite honestly say that I have not watched a film that made me laugh and also make me want to cry.  There are some really harrowing scenes that made me cover my face but Tyler's script really draws you in. I also liked the contemporary feel and look of the film and despite blatantly stealing the character of Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada (who Joanna is clearly based on) I thought this addition really helped to bring For Colored Girls into the 21st Century. The main characters are instantly relateable although with nine female leads you do find yourself forgetting about the characters until they pop back onto the screen. There are some truly wonderful performances here especially from Kimberly Elise, Anika Noni Rose, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton and Phylicia Rashad.  Kimberly does the ever suffering woman theme very well and takes this role to another level so I was not surprised to hear that she got grey hairs from playing Crystal because all of her scenes were really intense. Thandie is hilarious and provides a lot of laughs as the neurotic Tangie, Anika brings a level of intensity to her role while Loretta provides a sense of compassion. Phylicia's performance stood out to me mainly because I only really know her as Clair Huxtable in The Cosby Show but she really throws herself into this opposing character with amazing results. I thought Janet Jackson was really stiff in the role as Joanna, I do believe that Janet is a moderate actress but I feel that she was really stretched in this film. In the movie each character recites a monologue from the book and while the other actresses deliver theirs perfectly, Ms Jackson leaves a lot to be desired. I personally think that Angela Bassett would have acted the hell out of this role but then Bassett has become rather typecast as the angry Black woman.
Aside from the great characters the cinematography is wonderful with rich and beautiful shots of the women and lush exterior shots of New York. Despite the outcry Tyler Perry's latest offering is not a film about male bashing, it is a story about the perils that Black women face with and without Black men. As for Tyler, he has excelled himself here, I did wonder how he would merge Ntozake Shange's poetry within the film and although in some places it is a bit jerky overall it is not a bad effort and Perry is assisted with the stellar talent at his disposal. However, Tyler excels himself with theme of 'colors' and it is woven into the film subtly through the clothes the women wear along with make up and jewellery.  The verdict is that this is definitely the most mature piece of work that Tyler Perry has done to date.

For Colored Girls is out now in the UK.

Check out the official website.
If the trailer has wetted your appetite then check out the behind scenes mini documentary about the film below.

PS: I saw this film at The Empire with a wonderful group of Black women and I was not impressed with the fact that it was screened in the smallest cinema (approx 30 seats) which was tucked away at the top floor. Not cool Empire cinema!

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