With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Tyler Perry’s rendition of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, I fear that somehow Shange, and her struggles as a result of producing the choreopoem in the late seventies, has been buried alive. While today we (possibly) accept and even applaud Shange’s work, we would be remiss in not remembering her almost black-listing due to her choice to tell these fictitious, but somehow honest and authentic, stories of Black women’s lives. I had no idea, actually, of Shange’s associated hardships before choosing to study her writing and biography in one of my graduate literature courses. It turns out that Shange’s production was seen by the Black Conscious Community of the day as angry, anti-(Black) man, and dis-unifying. I’m sure that even today such sentiments exist regarding her work, and bring to mind the idea of the “angry Black feminist” who is intent on dismantling our families and communities by demonizing and excluding Black men.

Alice Walker may say that she created the term womanism to illustrate a perspective of feminism that includes our desire, or more so, our need to serve ourselves but also those we love—including our men. Like Shange, we have struggled, as women who desire to have our voices heard and our stories told, to find balance in being honest concerning our experiences and being allegiant to our greater cause of nation building. Shange, I’m sure, grew weary of being told to wait, to be silent, to be complicit in the strangling of the Black female voice. She rebelled. For Colored Girls . . . is the answer to that weariness, and there certainly was a price to pay for lending Black women that voice. I mean, anyone who has ever read any of Shange’s works or has seen a good production of FCG knows, without doubt, that she is an intentionally powerful and phenomenal wordsmith. How then did she, and her fantastic choreopoem, become so obscure and meritless? Dr. Robert Staples and Vernon Jarret (to name a few) come to mind while pondering these points.

Jarret, a writer and reviewer at the Chicago Defender, likened FCG to the film “Birth of a Nation,” calling the film “a degrading treatment of the black male” and “a mockery of the black family.”  Imagine that.   Dr. Staples, in his infamous article printed in the Black Scholar, commented that Shange (and consequently feminist writer Michelle Wallace) was out for Black male blood and was being used by White feminist to further attack and destroy Black manhood. It was Alice Walker who defended both women in a memo to the Black Scholar (which the publication chose not to print), asserting that, and as our sister Audre Lorde often commented, being pro-woman does not equal being anti-man—even if said woman (choosing to be pro-woman) is Black. According to Walker, “The element of truth is that, because of sexism (as much as racism, generally, and capitalism, yes) black women and men (who despite all “isms” own their own souls, I hope) are at a crisis in their relationship with each other. There is hatred, dislike, distrust between us. Should this continue we can say good-bye to the black peoplehood our myths and legends, struggles and triumphs have promised.”

Despite fellow feminists/womanists like Walker coming to her aid, Ntozake still faced quite a bit of backlash, and even ostracism. Many fail(ed) to see her vision, which was, and remains: that there is power and strength in giving voice to the pain that many Black women face. As my Twitter friend, and recording artist, Mystic (@thatgirlmystic) tweeted after viewing Perry’s version of FCG, “I found myself thinking, we go through so much as women. I imagine very few of us as young girls have any idea of what we will survive.” We will survive, as Ntozake Shange has. I could not sleep soundly without ensuring that all of us are aware of the price paid so that we could enjoy (maybe laugh, maybe cry) the film being shown in our local theater.

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  • FCG and the comments on it here pull on the complexity of the threads of subjugated identities. Maybe part of the answer is to hold some of all of the arguments. I certainly left the film with some ambivalence about the overwhelming representation of black men as sources of great pain and injury in women’s lives. That part of me is concerned with artistic nuance, human complexity, and collusion with the defiling representation of Black men in the mainstream media. But I also felt that Black women, who occupy two marginalized identities, female and Black, have the right to tell our story, our experience without regard to taking care of the image of Black men. Admittedly it’s not completely analogous to Black people being free to tell our story without regard to white people because black men are both subjugated as Black women are by race but privileged in many ways by their maleness. The deal for me is that regardless of what whites do with such material, I don’t think we serve ourselves as a community to avoid looking at the pain that we inflict on each other not simply as an individual matter but by virtue of certain power/privilege we occupy within race, and use in hurtful ways against each other, whether that’s about gender or sexual orientation. I don’t think Tyler Perry did Ntozakes’s play to say all Black men are no good, but to allow this sister’s voice to be heard, the voice of many sisters, to see the power of their pain and their beauty and the best of sisterhood.

    • justaroundthecorner

      Yes, our oppression is complex. Forums like this are good for black men and women to share experiences and search for solutions. We don’t understand each other nearly as well as we thought or need to.

      it’s unfortunate that there are no “For Colored Boys…” to explore the many aspects of black mens oppression. “Antwone Fisher” comes closest to that but a true “For Colored Boys would not emphasize our relationship with black women; it would explore our inner struggle to be men. Since It’s not considered manly for black men to explore their pain and analyze the source of it, I don’t think our stories will be told. For the sake of self understanding and for black women to gain a better understanding of us I hope that I’m wrong.

      I would like to add something to your statement:

      ” black men are both subjugated as Black women are by race but privileged in many ways by their maleness.”

      Race is a modifier of gender privilege. For black men, privilege is a double edged sword. As men we are regarded as the moral inferior or women, and as blacks we are regarded as the intellectual inferior of all other races and black women.

      What hasn’t attracted sufficient attention is the effect that internalizing this reputation of inferiority has on the morale (self esteem) and development of black boys throughout their formative years. Much of the antisocial behavior we see among young black men may have it’s roots in the ideology of racism which has scared their self image and undermined their confidence.

      Much of the consequence of this assault on the self esteem and character of many young black males is expressed as the abuse of black women. These males become a social conduit for the oppression of black women. They also become the face of that oppression which then reinforces their reputation for moral inferiority. Eventually many call each other Niggers affectionately out of irony and futility then unconsciously conform their behavior to that stereotype.

      I’ll admit that not very long ago I would just shrug my shoulders and say to my friends that we should just build more prisons for these young guys (punks). Calling them young “brothers” would have stuck in my throat. I have more compassion for them now but I don’t know how to help them. They languish on the street corners after doing their time in high school. The black “middle class” High school which they attend has a 21 percent graduation rate for black males and a 64 percent rate for black females.

      The only thing that I’m sure of is that most of them with soon be acquainted with the criminal justice system and as a result of this, black women will bear some of the brunt of it as they pass it along in the form of disappointment and abuse. Very sad but that story won’t be told and no redemption will be had.

  • BKL001

    Watching his movies can make a black man date out of his race. Blame Blame Blame…

    • Tlyn

      It was the controversial artist Kara Walker who said “I think secretly we all want to be slaves”. WHAT?! Hmmm…Does Tyler Perry think the majority of black women secretly enjoy looking at other weeping, wallowing, bludgeoned, oblivious, fearful, and tearful black women? Hey, maybe some of us do…because it was a box office hit… but my issue is how this type of pop art/film is used by other cultures to define an entire race. It seems to just feed into the ignorance already prevalent because it is not “ALL black men & ALL black women in America”. So I would agree with Jarrett’s comparison to “Birth of A Nation”. The only difference being that FCG is explicitly sexist instead of racist (Not referring to the play).

      There is another artist named Michael Ray Charles who’s work, like Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, encompasses the most unsettling stereotypes.

      “A lot of blacks have accused me of perpetuating stereotypes, and I think there’s a fine line between perpetuating something and questioning something. I like to get as close to it as possible in order, I guess, to create that tension, to evoke thought and to have people question how they deal with these images.”
      – Michael Ray Charles

      Maybe this is Perry’s agenda? It seems like it to me. He IS opening an avenue for multicultural film-makers and actors with his success so I’m not mad at him. Nor am I angry at his work for fueling discussions about race and gender. It is just the lasting psychological effects these images leave us with our entire lives that bothers me. It also makes me uncomfortable that the media loves to pump this type of art to the masses. That is why I’m surprised to read here that Shange was blacklisted because of her course literary tone and uneasy content.

      At the end of the day it is what sells (someone mentioned “shock value”) and not about what will unite us. (Perturbing) So my question is, do certain works from artists like Tyler Perry, Michael Ray Charles, and Robert Colescott serve their given purpose or are they doing the exact opposite?

      We can “ignite the conversations” until we are purple in the face. We won’t learn how to treat each other from fictitious films and TV shows. People were screaming in the theater when the children died but probably read through the article about a REAL 3-year-old boy that was murdered a few weeks ago after being thrown from a building in Queens. Images are that powerful and they are aesthetically pleasing so that we spend our money and time on it.

      The real action starts in our own smaller communities and relationships; that is where the progress begins. THAT IS WHY I AM AN AVID READER OF CLUTHMAG. Keep up the great articles! ^_^

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