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For Colored Girls

Movie Review: For Colored Girls (2010)
Spoilers: none

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As a minister, I once visited a church where I was the guest speaker. Being shown around by that church's preacher, we came to the podium where I noticed a peculiar shape on the wall. I got closer to see what this peculiar box was next to the thermostat just before the baptistery. I looked inside and there was a patch of red. It looked like blood. It was blood. Underneath it was a gold plaque that said: “The Fruits of Sin.”

When I asked what that meant, the preacher laughingly told me: “Oh, before me, this church had a preacher who started fooling around with another man's wife. The husband found out about it and came up here and hit the man in the face and the blood spattered on the wall. After firing the preacher, the elders decided not to clean it off, but to use it as a teaching tool.”

Like this crimson and undeniably effective teaching tool, For Colored Girls is a movie with a title that stands out. It takes a dated, partially derogatory ethnic reference and makes it into a three-worded reminder of times less diverse, less sympathetic to racial sensitivity.

The movie is based on a play of the same name in part written by black feminist Ntozake Shange, author of the award-winning novel, Betsey Brown. Shange tells a story in a series of poems of the struggles of being black and female. The characters were originally known by colors only, but have been given names in the film adaptation.

Like most of Tyler Perry's works, this one is the result of a deep contemplation of pain – only indirectly based on reality – but built by a director who, above all things, knows his target audience.

The film hones in on the lives of 8 women in different living situations whose paths cross in odd ways. Crystal (Kimberly Elise) is an abused spouse with two kids who are equally victims of a defunct and abusive Iraq war vet with a chronic drinking problem. Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) is a nosy but caring landlord who only wants to help the troubled tenants in her building of flights and flights of stairs and no elevators.

Juanita (Loretta Devine) runs a charity to get medical help for inner-city kids. She lectures women on caring for their bodies and using protection, but she struggles with following her own advice.

Jo (Janet Jackson) is Crystal's boss, a sharp “business bitch” who has not the time, nor the place for forgetfulness or failure. Alice (Whoopi Goldberg) is a religious kook and mother to two wayward girls in Gilda's less-than-upscale apartment complex. She has some very strange views on abortion for a religious nutter, but they are right in line with the film's pro-feminist prose that, although well written, seems out of place when the poetic run-downs are rattled off midway thru or after a rape scene or domestic dispute.

The movie opens with Perry's usual blending of high-class and low-class black society elements, nourished and fed in a smooth, soap opera-style melodrama that doesn't win much initial interest. The problem becomes less apparent, but then you face another.

The drama manufactured is the product of hardcore exploitation based on rape, poverty, molestation, domestic abuse, alcoholism, and infidelity. Take the darkest adulterations of the family and put them together into one movie, then write into it the chauvinistic double standards women must contend with on a social basis, and you have For Colored Girls.

For that reason, the film can't help but be moving. The question is, should you be moved? Does it make much sense to cry from witnessing another's sad plight when the worst of the worst elements were thrown in precisely for the purpose of injecting those tumultuous emotions to push our buttons?

Not all of these characters hit one out of the park, but it is evident that the goal of Perry's vision was achieved. A lot of us don't want or need any more drama, but for those who will entertain it, Perry has something worthwhile.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: R (for some disturbing violence including a rape, sexual content, and language)
Director: Tyler Perry
Summary: Each of the women portray one of the characters represented in the collection of twenty poems, revealing different issues that impact women in general and women of color in particular.
Starring: Kimberly Elise "Crystal / Brown," Janet Jackson "Jo / Red," Loretta Devine "Juanita / Green," Thandie Newton "Tangie / Orange," Anika Noni Rose "Yasmine / Yellow," Kerry Washington "Kelly / Blue," Tessa Thompson "Nyla / Purple," Phylicia Rashad "Gilda," Whoopi Goldberg "Alice / White," Macy Gray "Rose," Michael Ealy "Beau Willie," Omari Hardwick "Carl," Richard Lawson "Frank," Hill Harper "Donald," Khalil Kain "Bill"
Genre: Drama
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