On the same weekend that Tyler Perry’s film adaption, For Colored Girls, opened in theaters, the following news stories were reported in a local newspaper:
Leads were being sought in a brutal attack on Marsha Moore, a community activist in Southwest Philadelphia. Ms. Moore, a Citizens Crime Commission award winner and block captain, was savagely beaten in her home with a metal pipe.
Mary Elizabeth Beck, 20, was found dead in her boyfriend’s home with five gunshot wounds in an apparent murder-suicide. Her boyfriend was found nearby, dead by two gunshot wounds. According to the news report, the young woman’s father had “feared something terribly wrong.”
Elaine Goldberg’s half-naked body was found in “a trash-strewn lot in Kensington.” The 21-year-old former honor student had been strangled.
The trial is under way in the murder of Krystal Skinner, stabbed to death in front of her child. Only 23, she worked at a deli, had an internship and attended Rutgers. On trial is her boyfriend, Troy Whye. Whye’s niece testified that Whye told her, “If she (Krystal) keeps acting like that, I’m going to have to kill her. She’s getting on my nerves.”
One day’s news, in one region. And for all the eviscerating reviews of Perry’s film (“ham-handed,” “cartoonish,” and “shamelessly terrible”), one thing stands out to me after viewing it. The film is a reminder that a lot of women are being hurt by men.
It’s not an easy message to absorb, but it is a reminder worth thinking about, and thinking hard. The expected backlash (not all men are abusers) has erupted, as it did when the original stage drama on which the movie is based debuted in 1977.
But I ask: How many domestic violence shelters or rape prevention classes do you know of for men?
The original play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, is by Ntozakhe Shange. The film uses her cast of seven women of color who weave their individual stories into one cloth. Their terrible stories tell of rape, infidelity, child abuse, mental illness, teen pregnancy, abortion, and crushed dreams. For Colored Girls may first have been staged in 1977, but the horrors it dramatizes remain as vivid in 2010 as they were then.
A cosmic ensemble
In her introduction to the newest edition of her fierce, lyrical prose poem, Shange speaks of “global misogyny” and “the silent endurance of so many women.” She says of her fictional characters’ journeys, “The personal story of a woman became every woman, the solo voice became many. Each poem fell into its rightful place, a rainbow of colors, shapes, and timbres of voice, my solo instrument blossoming into a cosmic chamber ensemble.”
Ultimately, that’s what the voices in the film do as well. They blossom into a cosmic chamber ensemble of women hurt and lost, working their way toward being found (except for Whoopi Goldberg, who seems to be in another film altogether).
Director Perry, using the best of Shange’s intentions, has each actress in the film deliver a prolonged monologue directly from the original prose/poem. A bit disconcerting to the modern filmgoer, but if you give yourself over to it, and revel in the language, the rewards are there.
The women in last weekend’s newspaper didn’t have the language of a poet to describe their lives. Newspaper stories are meant to report the facts. Metal pipes, kitchen knives, a fist, gunshot wounds, a part of a body glimpsed through a window, closed blinds, a trash-strewn lot, a rock. One day, in one region. Mary Elizabeth Beck, Elaine Goldberg, Krystal Skinner, Marsha Moore. Those were just the ones that made the paper.
Tyler Perry’s film ends, improbably, in a group hug, the seven women leaning on one another for support – a Hollywood ending that wraps up Shange’s narrative much too neatly.
In my own Polish/Irish family – a family of six sisters whose entwined lives have also been terribly marred by domestic violence – we, too, lean on one another and hope for better times. Sometimes it’s the only thing you can do.
Kathy Stevenson’s work has appeared in many major newspapers and magazines. Her historical novel The Lake Poet was published in 2001 and she has published two essay collections. In 2010, her short story collection Death, Divorce, and Other Tales of Women’s Liberation was published as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle. She is currently a student in the master’s program in creative writing at Bennington College in Vermont.