3 STARS – Powerful
The power of the poetry in Ntozake Shange’s Tony-nominated play “For Colored Girls Who have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” is difficult to achieve on film. Not usually a medium for soliloquies, let alone for the recitation of long poems, Tyler Perry’s screen adaptation has moments of moving dialogue with other times when the poems seem forced. That is not to say that the poetry itself or the performances by the stellar cast are lacking. Set in 1975 as a major piece of literature in which both the racial and feminist issues were central to the culture, the issues are somewhat dated 35 years later.
As a play, Shange’s original work moved through the lives of nine women whose individual pain is expressed through poems. Though the play simply used colors to describe some of the characters, the film weaves together a group of women who we come to know in a much broader context than just a stage.
The ensemble cast includes a family whose father and grandfather sexually abused them, a successful editor who lifted herself out of the poverty of her early years, a dancer whose love for music is quieted after being date raped, a nurse and a neighbor who redeem their individual pain by reaching out to their sisters, and a young mother whose first love comes home from Vietnam but is abusive. The result is a complex tale that eventually brings all their lives together on a rooftop where they reinforce the strength they have as women and as people of color.
As an expression of what it is to be both a woman and a minority, the poetry is worth the price of admission. Given with passion and pacing, the pain of being left once more by a two-timing lover is given voice, while in another scene, a date rape occurs as another woman and her disturbed husband attend an opera.
Though not overtly spiritual, the climax of the film centers on a poem titled “Layin on of Hands.” Bringing the ensemble together for a going away party for Nyla (Tessa Thompson), whose high school prom resulted in her getting pregnant and her back-alley abortion brought out the truth about her mother’s (Whoopi Goldberg) and her sister’s (Thandie Newton) incestual abuse, the entire group recognizes that they are “missin somethin - somethin promised - somethin free – a layin on of hands.” This phrase focuses on both the call to care for each other in our times of need, whether we are sisters/brothers, neighbors, coworkers, abused, raped, abandoned, rejected, but it also refers to the spiritual healing that comes from laying on hands in supportive prayer. The dancer, Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose) begins the poem, but Crystal states it best in the last words of the play when she ends her soliloquy with this claim: “i found god in myself & i loved her/ i loved her fiercely.” In the play, the end is described this way: “All of the ladies repeat to themselves softly the lines ‘i found god in myself & i loved her.’ It soon becomes a song of joy, started by the lady in blue. The ladies sing first to each other, then gradually to the audience. After the song peaks the ladies enter into a closed tight circle. The final words are spoken: “& this is for colored girls who have considered suicide/ but are movin to the ends of their own rainbows”.
A worthy effort with powerful moments on screen, “For Colored Girls” gives us a glimpse into a world that is full of injustice, pain, courage and insight.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The struggle Jo (Janet Jackson) has to redefine herself as a successful editor from the poverty of her childhood has turned her into a bitter and isolated person. In her attempt to find a life partner, she chooses a man who ends up being gay. Why do you think she chooses him?
2. The author makes the observation that “the nature of rape has changed – we can now meet them in circles we frequent for companionship – we see them at the coffeehouse – wit someone else we know – we could even have ‘em over for dinner and get raped in our own houses by invitation….” What do you think has changed culturally that has made date rape more common?
3. When Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) gently confronts Crystal (Kimberley Elise) about her part in the murder of her children, this becomes a healing moment. Why do you think this is so?