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Movie Review: For Colored Girls for All Girls

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Director Tyler Perry is well known for his use of domestic drama within African American communities. In his sitcom Meet the Browns, he’s covered subjects ranging from drugs to social prejudice, so when his For Colored Girls premiered in November, audiences expected only the most heartfelt plot.

Targeted to women but relatable for men, For Colored Girls is a story about eight emotionally colorful women. The cast was dominantly of color but that wasn’t writer Ntozake Shange’s mindset when she conceived the Obie-winning play upon which this film is based. We are all colorful as human beings, she’s trying to say. Shange’s 1975 choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, utilizes chromatics, integrating the science of each character’s color into their personality. Chromatic references are as common as metaphors in poetry; even the Great Gatsby used colors to explain the characters’ lifestyles and situation.

It was a montage of poetry that drew the viewer in; even the trailer itself evoked tears. The only flaw in the film derived from Perry’s editing. Relative to his previous work, For Colored Girls was a colossal combination of situations. He seems to try to fit everything into one scene; points that can stand on their own and be further interpreted throughout the movie appear crammed in. His transitions make way for abrupt tangents; however, those who see the movie for the interpretations can appreciate it as if it was Shange’s choreopoem itself. It was a poem converted into a film, the lines recited like a modern Shakespearean drama.

To start, strong, powerful, Kimberly Elise was excellent playing a character whose world fell apart, leaving her with hot-flashes and flashbacks. She watched the family she strove for implode as her children’s post-traumatic-afflicted father lashed out. She reassured him of her love, begging him not to drink, but she stood by helplessly, listening to her children plead for their lives. And she wept, scrubbing their blood off of the pavement where their father dropped them. Brown, the color of the caretaker and protector, shone through her as she took on responsibility for her children, their mentally ill father, and her boss Jo, played by Janet Jackson.

Jackson herself should be lauded for her performance. Just like a poem’s metaphors, she faintly implied her sickness—HIV contracted from her secretive husband. Her cold sternness was astonishingly well-played. She sustained her uptight character throughout the film even when feeling sensitive and discovering the position she was in as a successful woman yet an unsuccessful wife. She said once in the film, “I loved him on purpose,” showing that she was vulnerable but ended up broken, revealing why women like her are stone-cold. With HIV epidemic in America, Jackson portrayed this role and the solemnity of it strongly. The fact that she wasn’t timid, mousy Janet, as with her earlier performances, showed her roundness as an actress.

Anika Noni Rose played yellow Yasmine, a warm dance teacher with big hopes and bigger dreams. Everything from her openness to love to her pure summer’s dress affirms the reneging stone-coldness of women with their guard up. She was free-spirited yellow indeed, guarding herself from a man but giddy and wanting to be oblivious that flowers signified sex. But Thandie Newton was there to assure her of a man’s intentions, knowing and living it like a science. She exuded selfishness from her mother but a passion to have a life that reasoned her corruption if only for the duration of intercourse. She was loud, she was exuberant, and she was hopeless at the face of her mother, her sister, and neighbor. But she held hope as she grew empathy for her younger sister, who is played by Tessa Thompson: young and frail, and only trying to change the cycle of her religiously corrupt mother and distraught sister.

Loretta Devine (playing the character Jaunita and the color green) extracts every given character with projected voice and personality. Frank (played by Richard Lawson) looped her character and provided the comic relief in chronic heartbreak. Young middle-aged women relate to this, as it is difficult to find a man without baggage within the forty-something network. But green as she was, she decided the only person she should nurture is herself. Her boyfriend (or partner) didn’t appreciate her devotion to their relationship but, contrary to Jo and Yasmine’s immediate decline to love, she chose to leave him be, confident that her love was “too beautiful to be thrown back in [her] face.” She conveyed a very optimistic character. “Ever since I realized there was someone called a colored girl, or an evil woman, a bitch, or a nag, I’ve been trying not to be that, and leave bitterness in someone else’s cup.” She showed the lighter aftermath of having a broken heart. Disappointment doesn’t always have to call for becoming stone-cold.

All these woman found something in common. The entire film was art. Rose danced to music that incorporated protecting and refreshing the mind, body, and soul; Thompson curdled into a fetal position at a hospital where nurses mended her plucked-at fetus. Instead of outright telling it, she and her castmates turned the film into a work of poetry. They let the audience interpret each of their situations through their relationships, body language, and poetry. I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Kerri Washington’s down and desperate blue, Whoopi Goldberg’s vying white, and the men in it molded the film. I strongly advise all older audiences to watch.

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About Sarah Estime

Sarah Estime is an aircraft mechanic in the United States Air Force. When she is not working her day job, she is composing works related to young adult, humor, and experimental drama. She has been published by the "African American Review," Canadian literary magazine "What If?" and photography litmag "BurnerMag."