Gchattin’ #ForColoredGirls: Art, Tyler Perry and Everything in Between

November 13th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

So after having seen “For Colored Girls,” we knew that we had to post about it. No doubts. And since we were both itchin to say something, we decided to borrow our “Gchattin’ Glee” format and hash it out together.

Seen the movie? Join the conversation in the comments. 

Amber: For Colored Girls. Man, this is a deep one. We saw it a week ago and I’m still processing. I went into the theater skeptical that Tyler could pull it off, but hoping that he would prove me wrong. Needless to say, I was disappointed, and at some points in the film even angry. Overall I think Tyler’s adaptation of For Colored Girls failed to be true to Ntozake Shange’s original message. He completely missed the point.

Liz: It was Tyler doing Tyler with some poetry thrown in. And the poetry made it choppy even as I was mesmerized by the acting. He seems to have one narrative that he has to hit again and again…I remember thinking, why am I not crying? I cry on movies. Somebody starts crying and I’m tearing up. In this movie, I never did. Not once. And I think it’s because I was never invested in these characters. I don’t know them. Things just happen to them. I don’t think Tyler knows them either. He has a narrative and writes it, but it isn’t about real people. Does that make sense?

Amber: It does make sense. His stories are all very one dimensional and this movie, following the same trend of his other films, was lacking in substance and depth. He doesn’t take the time to develop his characters, he writes stories around them rather than telling stories through them, and therefore as a viewer, you never completely develop a connection to them. He tells you how you should feel about them the minute they are introduced and your identification with them never goes much beyond that. It’s funny though that you mention that you didn’t cry (and we know you are a crier. :-P ) because I have really been thinking a lot about Tyler’s audience. I didn’t like the film. You didn’t like the film. But so many people did. In fact, we may have been the only two in our full theater who walked out rolling our eyes. And although you didn’t cry, I know many many people who did.

Liz: Well, just to clarify, I’m not a weeper! I just do the silent tears. ;) But yeah, so many people seemed to enjoy it and I think it’s because Tyler can write a story. People say and do crazy things. You gasp, you laugh, you say “OMG!” There is a sliver of truth in many of his movies even as there are many moments of contrived and cliche plots/dialogue. And Tyler isn’t the only writer/director/producer to create those. But it’s hard to watch when he’s trying to tackle so many deep issues. And when he’s made so many movies with the same plots. His characters are the same with different names.

Amber: But people love him! Despite the fact that he so clearly repeats characters, storylines, and plots. This is what I am trying to wrap my head around. What is it about his films that continues to draw in the crowds? I mean, obviously the fact that “For Colored Girls” was his adaptation of the award-winning and highly esteemed “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” is gonna draw in some folks, critics and supporters alike, not to mention the stellar cast….but those things aside, why does he continue to rake in the millions in spite of all the criticism?

Liz: It’s kind of like watching a soap opera on the big screen. Do you ever really cry on a soap opera? Do you ever actually care about the people? Not really…you just want to let your mouth drop open and wait anxiously to find out what will happen next. It’s solely about plot. Crazy plot. Like seeing a man with another man in the car, caught having oral sex. Your next introduction to him is as a husband. Gasp!

Amber: Yes. I hear you. Tyler’s movies are very much like soap operas, that is actually a great analogy. They are easy to get into, don’t require much thinking, and are mildly entertaining. Here’s my question though: Why then are we so frustrated by Tyler’s movies? Why do we care so much that he didn’t live up to our expectations? Why are we so quick to critique his “art?” The thing is, Tyler is a powerhouse in Hollywood and really the only writer/director/producer who makes films about and geared toward Black audiences (OK, not the ONLY, but right now I would argue that he’s the most consistent and visible). Therefore, I think his work inevitably carries a certain weight with it since he is one of few filmmakers attempting to tell black stories from black perspectives for black people, which is always a heavy cross to bear. It’s a tricky tricky ball game and the simplistic nature of Tyler’s films coupled with the way he has established himself in Hollywood makes him liable to fierce criticism. 

Liz: He brings in the money. I didn’t used to be so critical about his movies. I like Diary of a Mad Black Woman. I found others funny and entertaining. And there are so few movies that showcase the talent of black women (and men) which For Colored Girls certainly did. But as movie after movie has come out, I’ve been more critical of him as nothing seems to change. I’m just kind of tired. And so I’m even more critical when his source material has so much potential, so much power and so much artistry. And although he gets props for what he has done, being a powerhouse means you’ll only get more and more scrutiny.

Amber: Exactly, as he begins to make more films and becomes more visible, people are starting to challenge him to step up his game and improve his craft. An adaptation of “For Colored Girls” was a HUGE undertaking, which shows that Tyler is attempting to expand himself, his stories, and his audience. But the thing is, if you are going to take on such a huge project with so much potential, it’s important that it’s done right and I think that the execution of the film suffered greatly from:
1. Tyler doing everything himself as you mentioned (Did he really have to write, direct, and produce?! Like really, dude…too much…and it showed)

2. His failure to capture and translate the powerful message of strength, beauty, vulnerability, and the wholeness of women of color expressed through Shange’s original work.

3. Telling stories about women through their relationships with men. This was a MAJOR fail, and perhaps most frustrating. His failure to centralize the stories and experiences of the women in the film ended up greatly changing the overall message and impact.

Liz: I think number 3 is directly tied to number 2 – he can’t capture the wholeness of women of color because he only tells the stories through their relationship with men. At the end of the movie, they stood as survivors, but not as agents (except perhaps Loretta Devine’s character who finally kicked her man out). And the male characters suffer too – they are incredibly one-dimensional. They are bad or good. They’re props. So the stories are seen through women’s relationships with men, decentralizing them, but what is it centralizing? These aren’t real male characters either.

Amber: Yes, I agree that all the characters were written poorly. But the fact that Tyler chose to emphasize the women characters’ relationships with the men in their lives in order to tell their stories is such a problem. The stories should be able to stand on their own, but when told through someone else, a relationship, or a situation, the person central to the story is diminished. So is the perspective. Like you so adequately put it, “at the end of the movie [the women] stood as survivors, but not as agents.” And it is clear that Tyler Perry was the storyteller, because he wrote himself all up in them.

Liz: How do you think he wrote himself all up in them? Break it down. ;)

Amber: Well, like we mentioned earlier, so many of Tyler’s characters are cliche and have also become staples of his films. For example, Janet’s character, and really that entire situation between her and her husband, has been done before by Tyler–the strong, independent, educated, financially secure woman who is also emotionally cold, distant, and generally unhappy, married to a man that she emasculates due to her many flaws of character. And the down low brother thing is just tired. The way that situation played out was so problematic and extremely frustrating.

Liz: Agreed. I felt so uncomfortable with those scenes. And when it turns out she has HIV I was cringing…because the way he writes it is so cliche (how many times can I use that word? many.) Seriously, a cough? Why the hell is she throwing in little coughs? That pissed me off cuz it just trivializes it by making it so silly. Sigh. The scene where Janet Jackson and Loretta Devine talk felt like a PSA – which perhaps shows that Tyler wants to reach women of color with a specific message, but is he even sure what that message always is?

Amber: To be honest, it seems as if Tyler hasn’t completely dealt with his own sexism. And it is evident through his characters. In this film, he blamed the women for a lot of what they were going through. Not only were shitty things happening to them, but in large part, he portrayed it as their fault based on bad choices and staying in bad situations. Even though the men were portrayed negatively, the women were blamed for the outcomes: Why did you let him in the house? Why didn’t you leave him when he beat you the first time? Why didn’t you use protection? If you would’ve shown him some damn attention and made him feel like a man, he wouldn’t be looking for men to sleep with….(?) Gaaah. I agree that he seems to want to empower or encourage women, but he’s unable to sift through his own prejudices and as a result his stories strip women of agency while blaming them for their problems in the same breath.

Liz: Problematic to say the least. And it’s too bad. His source material does the opposite. The movie may have ended with the words “For Colored Girls who’ve considered suicide,” but lining up the host of (amazing) actresses to hug each other resolved nothing. It only left me disappointed and wanting to see the play performed on stage. Perhaps the one redeeming moment at the end was this song.

Amber: I hear you and I hope that more people have that reaction. I do give Tyler (minimal) props for wanting to do an adaptation of this play. He has definitely revived it in a way and I hope that the hype will get more people to read the book and hopefully seek out the opportunity to perform it and/or go see it on stage.

God Bless America?: Being White, Christian and American

September 17th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Well Amber,

You may have been on hiatus, but you came back in full force. If there’s a topic that will get me really fired up, this is it (well….there are probably many topics like that, but this is one of them). This is a myth I hate: the white American Christian whose religion is (un)equally a patriotic and biblical one.

Why do I hate this myth so much? Because it’s a mask and Christianity (as a faith) is about taking off masks. Because it’s banking on a privilege and Christians should be working hard to dismantle that privilege, not tapping into it. Because it alienates and hurts.

Because, what would Jesus do? ;)

First, cut the Christian nation talk. Stop demanding that America turn back to God. Glenn Beck is wrong – America does not need to turn back to God. A country can’t turn back to whom it was never with. The country may have been founded on cultural religious principles, but it was hardly spiritual. Ain’t nothin spiritual about owning slaves or genocide.

Here’s the raw difference: there’s Christianity the culture and Christianity the faith. The white American Christian myth is cultural. The faith should not be. But the distinction is often lost.

Christians need to understand the power of cultural Christianity as a privilege and guard against it. White American Christians must understand the peculiar and potent mix of their privilege. The myth of a Christian nation is intoxicating…to white Christians. Because, it’s branded for us. How easy is it to entwine God and country when the American narrative is always about you? Why shouldn’t God be too?


It hurts me when I hear white Christians talk so easily of the “American church” as if it is a monolith – a body that sees, hears and experiences the same things. Or when my boss (of former years) sees my cross and assumes I’m Republican. It hurts when white Christians act as if they don’t need to try to understand another Christian’s perspective or leave their racism unchecked or their sexism becomes entwined with their Christian language. I am tired of Christian arguments with no historical context. I am so frustrated with a white Christian culture that has settled in a hotel penthouse in America, only to lumber out if threatened – but not when others feel threatened. I so tired of a (white) religion of charity without justice.

Life is complicated. The world is complicated. Being a Christian doesn’t make it less so. If anything, it highlights the need to understand how complicated it is. And unfortunately, the church as an institution is a part of that complication. America’s “christianity” (the one referred to in all the speeches) has been a religion allied with power – building up slavery and wealth, fighting against the rights of others, producing fear and prejudice.

The white American Christian myth draws its power from privilege. That’s not what Jesus does. His power is distinctly dis-privileged. And more powerful. His is the one that marched against dogs and hoses.

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”  - Jesus =)

I look forward to the day when politicians no longer invoke God or use certain “christian” code words. I just don’t think we serve the same God.

God bless….?

Where Racial and Religious Discrimination Meet

August 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

So Amber,

Twenty days later and I gotta come back to this mosque topic. I’m heated again. The latest is this video:

I wanted to tear some heads off when I saw this. Scream. Cry. The works. It is disgustingly ugly. 

And racial.

They may be chanting “No Mosque here” but it is so much more than fear of a religion. It demonstrates that the perceptions of Islam in America (and the Western world) are racialized. This man, trying to get through a crowd, is chanted at, verbally abused and dehumanized because he is a man of color and he wore a “weird” hat. The combination of the two signaled to the crowd that he was Muslim. Because he was (perceived to be) Muslim, he must be their opponent.

I read a comment that said (not a direct quote) “Stop saying its racist stupid. It’s a religion.” And this is what I want to talk about. Why this video is racist.

I’ve made comments to people before about how racist the language against Islam is, and they often don’t understand me. They understand that the language isn’t good, but they don’t see race involved. The color of someone’s skin is never verbalized, so how is it racist? It’s about religion and culture.

But here it is to see. A sea of white faces angrily following a black man and chanting. As he puts it, “All ya’ll dumb motherfuckers don’t even know my opinion on shit.”

But they think they do. Because of how he appears. Because they see Islam as a religion that is not white. Because he is a black man wearing certain clothing. Because they see him as other. As foreign. As not American (you know, the “real” America).

What is “other” to them? Islam is. Blackness is. In the context of a protest against Islam (or a Mosque at Ground Zero…whichever you want to say), race becomes a stand-in for religion.

It doesn’t matter that he says, “I’m not even Muslim.”

Why is this video racist? Why are the conversations European countries have about ridding their countries of the influence of Islam racist? Why are tv shows, movies, articles about terrorism so often racist? Because race and religion cross each other is so many contexts. Because one is used to characterize the other. Nothing is scarier than a black Muslim man.

I can barely write this without wanting to rip something to shreds. This entire issue makes me so upset: Real people are hurt by this bullshit. Politicians can bow to polls like it doesn’t matter, but real people are hurt. This man does not walk away from it unscathed. Neither do those who watch it and feel the heat and anger directed towards them.

This is when I really hate the world.

I wanted this post to be more thoughtful, more intellectual, but right now, it can only come out as emotional. It’s just too deep.

America, Mosques and Ground Zero: A Symbol of What and for Whom

August 3rd, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink


I’m going to take us away from gender for a bit – I’m sure we’ll return to the topic. Today, I read an article at Slate (shout out to Anaka – thanks!) about the recent controversy over a plan to build a mosque and community center near Ground Zero in NY. I’d heard of this fight before, but here was a collection of quotes from Republican and religious leaders declaring their opposition to this project. A sampling:

“To build a mosque at Ground Zero is a stab in the heart of the families of the innocent victims of those horrific attacks.” – Sarah Palin

“There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” – Newt Gingrich

“It is simply grotesque to erect a mosque at the site of the most visible and powerful symbol of the horrible consequences of radical Islamist ideology.” – Newt Gingrich

“Even though the vast majority of Muslims reject that ideology and condemned their actions on Sept. 11, 2001, it still remains a fact that the people who perpetrated the 9/11 attack were Muslims and proclaimed they were doing what they were doing in the name of Islam. Given that fact, I believe that it is inappropriate for a mosque to be at Ground Zero.” – Dr. Richard Land

The same leaders who tout America’s superiority, due to its freedom and democracy, are the same who demand restrictions on fellow Americans’ freedom. Because let’s not be mistaken, this mosque and community center is for Americans. Islam is in America. It is not foreign. It is not other. It is American.

But that is not the narrative we wish to create, that is not the story we tell, that is not the America we have constructed. When Palin says it would be a stab in the heart of victims’ families, I wonder if she has considered the families of those who died and who are Muslim? Or are they not her “real” America?

And is Gingrich honestly suggesting that we mirror the actions of oppressive countries? That the decisions we make and the causes we support should be based on the actions of foreign countries and not the needs of our citizens? Because, again, this is an American mosque and community center.  A mosque and community center would be a powerful symbol of peace if erected at the site of one of the most powerful symbols of the “consequences of radical Islamic philosophy.”

I remember standing at the top of Cape Coast Castle, in its Church, staring at a verse from the Psalms, “For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling.” Moments before I stood in dungeons where enslaved Africans were held. A dungeon below a church. A symbol of evil.

It is not a symbol of my faith. It is a symbol of my faith corrupted, a symbol of inhumanity covering its sins with “righteousness.”

Should no church be near sites such as these?

If America claims to be democratic and free, New York City will allow the building of a mosque near Ground Zero. We will not speak of Muslims as foreigners, as only perpetrators and not victims, but as Americans seeking to build a place of worship and community, to contribute their own narrative.  

But 54 percent of Americans do no believe a mosque should be built.

America’s values are its greatest asset and its biggest lie.

And its civil religion – honoring a god that is American* patriotic** – is its own church atop a dungeon – masking the ugliness below. But that may be another topic.

* Who is American in that civil religion narrative?
** And what is patriotic?

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