I want Tyler Perry to rise to the occasion. I want him to prove to people that he can be a filmmaker of nuance and depth. I’d like for him to prove naysayers – including folks like me who haven’t always been his biggest fan – that he can step it up when called upon to.
When I found out that Tyler Perry would be directing a film adaptation of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, I didn’t start conceiving potential alibis ahead for fear that my rage might get the best of me.
Mind you, I haven’t read the play. I recently ordered it and will read shortly, but I did have enough backhand knowledge to know that the play does deal with race, gender, sex, abortion, and domestic violence all through poetry and very much from a feminist perspective.
Those are all certainly more complex themes than you’d find in many of Tyler Perry’s plays or films – which typically deal with black women solving all of their life’s problems after marrying the garbage man Jesus sent them via Heaven’s version of eHarmony.
Even the original playwright herself had concerns. As the New York Times reported in a new feature about Ntozake Shange’s new novel, “Ms. Shange said she explicitly told Mr. Perry that Madea could not be in Colored Girls.”
I didn’t want to use his past to write him off the way others did upon word of him doing the film. You have to give a person a chance to do better if that’s what you truly ask of them. That is, whatever your perception of “better” is.
That’s why I told people to give him the benefit of the doubt and while it’s okay to be concerned, don’t completely write off something you haven’t even seen.
That said, while I will support this movie and do applaud his efforts to evolve, the more I hear about the back story of this film the more I question the following: Just why isn’t a black woman telling a black woman’s story?
A friend told me the other day while she attended “Madea’s Big Happy Family” Tyler said [paraphrasing] that while people complain about him doing the film no one else stepped up.
Nzingha Stewart stepped up and from my understanding originally was assigned this film. Sanaa Lathan, Halle Berry, Angela Bassett and Queen Latifah were all names floating around for the project. Then Tyler Perry swooped in and took the reigns of the project. Many who seem to be connected to Nzingha say by force. As in Lionsgate forced her to sell the rights to Tyler. So he became the director and she became a producer and I guess co-screenwriter.
Well, maybe not even that anymore as evidenced by the end credits at the trailer.
It seems Ms. Stewart has been Lauryn Hilled. Or maybe he did indeed opt to write the screenplay himself. The IMDb page has since been altered as of two days ago. Previously she and Tyler shared writing credits there.
I understand the rationale behind Tyler’s substitution. He’s a bigger name with a much larger following and a guaranteed track record for success. If he can manage to make a movie that doesn’t leave a significant portion of the black female population that adores Ntozake Shange’s work enraged then he’s won – pending the Oscar nods he desires.
Based on the film’s trailer, it looks like he may very well achieve that feat. I still have a few reservations. The first being Tyler’s penchant for melodrama and his knack for writing women as two-dimensional characters. Then there are my worries over Janet Jackson carrying such a large part of the film (based on billing).
Now I loves me some Damita Jo, but she’s not my favorite thespian. She has not convinced me in any acting role since Mrs. Gordon burned her ass. As Lauren put it, Janet thinks good acting is speaking in a Color Purple voice.
But as I said one can’t dismiss something they haven’t even seen. Thus far Oprah – who reportedly also questioned why a man was doing this film – offered her feedback on the script and as a result, is said to have liked the rough cut of the film.
Shange herself described the film as “very good.”
So Tyler Perry may very well indeed have his moment. The question is should that moment be his?
The film’s synopsis is described as “a poetic exploration of what is to be of color and a female in this world.”
The story of how the film came to be seems to say more about that than perhaps the film itself.
One of my all-time favorite movies is Eve’s Bayou. The film’s director, Kasi Lemmons, was quoted a few years ago saying that she doesn’t think the film could get green lit in 2010.
I bet if it did it would be called Madea Visits The Swamp.
Anyway, it’s those sorts of musings from female directors that prompted me to write this post. It’s hard enough for any female director – black or white – to be at the helm of a movie not considered directly targeting females.
Now it seems one of literature’s most cherished works about black women penned by a black woman can’t even be explored in film by one.
Does this bother you ladies or is this another instance of the ends justifying the means?