Rainbows of Women
For Coloured Girls
Director: Tyler Perry
Cast: Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Janet Jackson, Kimberly Elise, Phycilia Rashad, Anika Nani Rose
(Lionsgate, 2010) Rated: R
Perry, the auteur, does it again.
Although this film is a step-up from his Madea chronicles, I am no Tyler Perry apologist. While the film does address issues, as the title provocatively insinuates, that black women have, it is meant to be an account on the difficulties of women in general. In Shange’s experimental, 20-part poem play, titled For coloured girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, ‘coloured’ refers to the range and depth of experiences in which women become vulnerable and as a result, colour how they view the world, relationships and, ultimately, their lives. The colours represent the many shades of adversity as well as the diverse responses to it, illustrating the point that sometimes it is hard to be a woman, but, as Perry spins it, sometimes it is harder to be a black woman.
Falling victim to the Perry formula – empowering stereotypical archetypes of black women, bashing males, Christian uplift and dime-store psychology – his interpretation of Shange’s 1975 play in For Coloured Girls is an emotionally exhaustive, suffocating melodrama. Packing every female issue under the sun in two hours, it was ridiculously dramatic and dramatically ridiculous. From unwanted pregnancy to infertility, from rape to incest, from struggling with being a closeted homosexual to dealing with STIs, Perry constantly pounded on our emotions. Many scenes are difficult and intense to watch he begins to learn how to use the lens as an stylistic, interpretive device rather than simply a recording one as seen in his past films. His newfound confidence is seen in his operatic date-rape scene; his switching between overlapping customary dialogue and stanzas of Shange’s poetry; or silent-film close-ups during self-assuredly long monologues.
Evidently, this film was not meant to highlight men, it was a message that no matter how much education, how much money, how strong a woman may think she is – she is still a woman, and will still tackle certain issues simply because she was born without a Y chromosome. The feminist movement did not make us equal to men, but rather made us forget that the genders are different. Men and women have issues that arise because of their gender, this has and will always be, perennial.
If it were any other cast, this film would have fallen apart. An astounding cast, Rashad, Devine, Elise, Newton, and Rose wear their emotions on their sleeves and beckon you to align your experiences with theirs. They plumb into metaphysical depths of emotion that women, let alone black women, rarely get to showcase in mainstream films. The only sore thumb was Janet Jackson, a cookie-cuttered Miranda a la The Devil Wears Prada, was excruciatingly vitriolic and ill-suited for her layered character.
Both mythologizers, Shange and Perry convert their childhood trauma into something universal. Derived from concepts of blackness, female victimhood and empowerment, they do not ask you to like their story but simply ask that you take a glimpse into the troubled souls of women.