TYLER PERRY: FOR COLORED GIRLS; WHAT ARE THE LASTING SOCIOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS?
By: Fahim A. Knight-El
My wife talked me into going to see, the movie “For Colored Girls” last weekend directed by Tyler Perry, it was originally based somewhat on the 1974 Broadway stage play titled, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf”, authored by Ntozake Shange. My wife, is a huge fan of Tyler Perry and his work in which most of his movies she hasn’t missed, but let me be a bit honest here, if it was left up to me, I probably wouldn’t have gone to view any of Tyler Perry’s movies. Yet, this is not to downplay or demean how crafty and talented Tyler Perry is as a producer, director, scriptwriter and no doubt this brother is a creative artistic genius; literally a story from rags to riches. But out of love and respect for my wife (we do not always agree, but I respect her insight and perspective even if it is a dissenting opinion), we have gone together to see a number of his films.
We have viewed together on the big screen Tyler Perry’s films such as “Daddy’s Little Girl”, “The Family that Preys”, “Why did I Get Married?”, “Madea’s Family Reunion” and “Medea Goes to Jail”. Perry has a loyal black following and a number of his films have scored huge at the box office because of these loyalists. Thanks to the power of black people’s ticket purchasing and as I stated above blacks ordinarily comes out in huge numbers to support Tyler Perry’s Films (we are a very predictable people). However, like most black filmmakers and directors his films are no different and are of very little substance and are made to merely entertain—keep them laughing, happy and docile (modern day Amos n’ Andy). Also, I am a huge supporter of black film makers (I am more of a supporter of independent filmmakers).
But I must say right off the back that most African American films are often shallow and entertaining and lack real political substances. I consulted my good friend Troy Muhammad for some answers, he has been in the film industry for over twenty-five years he stated: “The problem is that not many folk go see conscious Black flicks; not enough to make a dent at the box office at least not since Spike Lee first hit the scene. Now I believe that if the flick is good and well done everyone—black, white, blue, etc., will go see it.” There are perhaps some exceptions to this dismal era in the life of black creativity in twenty-first century. Muhammad further stated there were some socially conscious film makers and directors, however, those individuals such as: “The Hudlin Brothers, Matty Rich, Bill Duke and Antoine Faqua are absent, or have decided that strictly Black theme Flicks don't appeal to the masses.”
This writer also knows that blacks do not control Hollywood and the images that come out are systematically created with intended covert purposes and agendas, which is being shaped and molded by powerful hidden forces. I hear African American constantly praising Irvin “Magic” Johnson, the former Los Angles Lakers basketball player and Hall of Famer and his prior investments in bringing movie theaters to depressed and dilapidated areas of urban America. But Magic Johnson has minuscule influence on the images that Hollywood decides to put on the big screen. This writer respects Magic Johnsons entrepreneurial ventures and he has done extremely well as a black business man, but he has no idea how the minds of those who controls mass mediums function.
Let me digress, a bit prior to the movie coming out, Tyler Perry appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, a reactionary Negro woman who for twenty years has played it very safe. How many African Americans have she helped to become millionaires? That’s another subject for another time. Perry talked about his abusive past as a child where he was raped and sexually molested as a young boy. There is no doubt Tyler Perry appeared to have been traumatized by these events and perhaps have left him permanently psychologically and socially scarred.
Minister Ava Muhammad in her book titled: “The Force and Power of Being” stated: “We suffer from divorce, death, illness, the humiliation of unemployment; all of these things lead to a build up of hate, bitterness and resentment, which does not resolve our problems, but scars the soul. Our communities have become a place where we can not seek peace when we come home in the evening, a place where we suffer what I defined earlier: trauma, or shock, and violence against the physical and mental systems. And we’re undergoing this trauma, self-respect and self-confidence tend to disappear.” (Reference: Ava Muhammad; “The Force and Power of Being”; pp. 34-35).
This writer can not imagine—even thirty or forty years later the feeling of anguish, which Perry may still experience throughout his daily life, that could range from insecurity, betrayal and the torment of being raped and sexually molested by a family member could be haunting. He shared his childhood experiences with Oprah and the pain and hurt were visible and it was probably more painful having to recall and relive the trauma of physical abuse and sexual abuse. But it is also evident that Mr. Perry has some sexuality issues that are still unresolved—whether he is homosexual or heterosexual seems to be an internal battle that he is fighting (he won over the black Christian community initially with his black religious theme plays and homosexuality is still not a well accepted or embraced lifestyle in the black church).
This writer thinks that the movie For Colored Girl was more of a depiction and representation of his own personal psychosis in which each character perhaps were telling us a little something about unresolved aspects of Tyler Perry’s life. Thus, each character for the most part experienced some aspect of personal violence and I will tell you right of the back the movie was an indictment of black men and black women. Here is my opinion of why Black women, in particular, should be outraged because the question has to be raised whether or not Tyler Perry was implying that black women were incapable of finding and choosing loving relationships that were integrity based, trustworthy and worthy of their love. He depicted Thandie Newton who played the character Tangie who was a nymphomaniac, which gave the impression of being incapable of true love and met men on an animalistic level). Perhaps he was even implying something far more socially debilitating and sinister relative to the available pool of black men in which black women have to pull from (social and psychological inept black men seemed to be in abundance).
The truth of the matter is there are plenty of good black men who are not rapist, murders, womanizers, homosexuals or engaged in domestic violence, etc. There are some black women, in particular feminist who may believe that this movie was liberating because many black women have been victims of these male inflicted pathologies and may see fit to applaud Tyler Perry for having the courage to foster this type needed conversation outside of our homes, the black community, and presenting this to the broader American society, perhaps for an extended debate. Nevertheless, the intent of the movie serves as an indictment and unfair generalization of the behavior and social attitudes of African American men. I am looking for a few good black men to standup and denounce and condemn this movie as being reactionary and counterproductive to the cultural and social development of a people who are already in crisis.
Haki R. Madhubuti in his book titled, “Claiming Earth: Race, Rage, Rape, Redemption; Blacks Seeking a Culture of Enlightened Empowerment” stated: We become a people who do not care what others think about us. The empowering of one’s self places the you in you at the center of your universe. As long as we allow others outside of our families or extended families to judge and direct our futures, we will never become centered or focused on that which is best for us or defined by us. Empowerment at its root means being a self-determining and self-reliant person who is secure in one’s own personhood and who functions within a knowledge base that is current, cutting edge, and expanding.” (Reference: Haki R. Madhubuti; “Claiming Earth: Race, Rage, Rape, Redemption; Blacks Seeking a Culture of Enlightened Empowerment”; p. 236).
Let me start by stating that African Americans pathological syndromes can not be represented in a historical vacuum and a more responsible approach would have been to revisited back to the evil and abusive system of Chattel Slavery (1555-1865) in which for 310 years blacks (Africans) were victims of violence—rape, murder, lynching, dividing of the black families, etc., perpetrated by a system of white supremacy. The late Yale University Professor John Blassingame in his book titled, “The Slave Community” deals with the effect of the slave plantation life had on the evolution of slave personality. I would like for my readers to just reason with me for a moment and try to imagine the anxiety, the pain, the fear, inhumanness, degradation and how this pathology was transferred into the DNA of Africans who were victims of this daily type brutality and the survival behavior patterns that emanated from this human tragedy. Three centuries of cruelness can not be overlooked when you are critiquing, evaluating, assessing or just trying to understand the black experience (psychologically and socially).
Sister Shahrazad Ali in her book titled, “The Blackman’s Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman” stated: “In examining the Black women’s childhood the Blackman will have ample opportunity to scrutinize his own. All must focus on the forces, the individual personalities and environments from which they emerged. From these memories they will be able to examine together the long term effects of slavery and hard times. It will invariably be found that the disparity between the Blackman and the Blackwoman was already present when they were born. It has existed a very long time, with each generation contributing their own part to the decline of Black male and Black female interpersonal relationships. It is not really something that the present day Blacks invented. It is an inherited habit of neglect, dissatisfaction and perversion. The aforementioned three habits are not rules, nor are they prerequisites to living in today’s world. They are patterns of behavior brought on by suggestions and conclusions drawn by Western societal morals and mores.” (Reference: Shahrazad Ali; “The Blackman’s Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman”; p. 176).
This approach as outlined by Ali would have politicized Perry’s script and these type Negroes do not have the courage to standup to their ex-slave master’s children as free and independent black men. They are often rewarded for bamboozling us and kowtowing to their paymasters. How could these variables not enter into cinema settings, plots and genres even in a movie such as For Colored Girls? This was the root cause of our psychological and sociological dysfunctional behavior, but Perry omitted and negated post traumatic stress syndrome or what our sociologist Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary called Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. If this movie would have been produced and directed by a white film director, it would have caused a huge outcry from the African American community. The criticism would have ranged from the depiction of reinventing old stereotypes, negative images and how could we allow black males to be thrust into such violent images?
Black organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Ben Jealous and Reverend Al Sharpton of National Action Network would be screaming boycott and demanding that Hollywood issue an apology, as well as donate some money to a black sponsored charity. These big so-called Negro leaders are good at blackmailing corporate America, but none did it better than Reverend Jesse Jackson—he hustled a lot of corporate money directly into his personal bank account. But I guess because it’s Tyler Perry and Tyler Perry Studio, a black man and black film maker, we have a double standard and he gets a free pass to portray these negative stereotypical images and relationships with little to no opposition from black America. There is no call to boycott Tyler Perry or demand that he issue black America a public apology. Our silence gives way to us being in complicit and/or is willing to surrender ethical and moral high ground for the sake of being loyal to the race? This movie should be condemned and he needs to know, if we are going to continue support his films, we will not tolerate images that portray blacks in such a negative light.
My wife about half way into the film looked at me and said she had enough lets get up and leave. She said this was too painful, but as a social critic I talked her into sitting through the entire film because I was curious, if there would be some silver lining or redemption at the end, however there were none forthcoming. Black men, in particular should be outraged; almost every male character in the film were negative, violent, sexually confused, insensitive, abusive, psychological deranged, etc.
Earl Ofari Huchinson in his book titled, “The Crisis in Black and Black,” stated: “Blacks practically bankroll Hollywood with their dollars. They buy an estimate one out of four movie tickets to all American films. What are they getting for their movie spending splurge? Do they help Hollywood reinforce the Sambo, Mammy, Amos n’ Andy, ‘Gangsta,’ sexually degenerate image of themselves? Should blacks turn off to those black filmmakers who specialize in creating spectacles of degradation of blacks on the screen? Can blacks do anything to insure that black filmmakers, actors, and scriptwriters turn out positive films and TV productions that entertain and uplift and inspire?” (Reference: Earl Ofari Huchinson; “The Crisis in Black and Black,”; p. 131).
Perry tried to balance the pain and hurt by depicting and injecting actor Hill Harper, a detective in the film as a token good guy and the only black male who wasn’t violent and abusive to his woman. This token character did not overcome the psychological theme that For Color Girls created in the minds of black people in which one positive black male role model stuck out like a soar thumb. This writer is by no way suggesting or implying that some of the pathological circumstances and behaviors that Perry’s movie addressed and identified isn’t germane to black life and no doubt we need to have a critical and open conversation relative to domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, teenage pregnancy, HIV-Aids, Down Low and homosexuality, feminism, mental health, violence, the problems of incapability of loving and demonstrating sustainable emotions towards one another, etc. Dr. Khallid Abdul Muhammad used to call it that black love.
The actor Michael Ealy’s character was named Beau Willie, a military veteran who was deeply depressed and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was depicted as being violent towards his children and live-in girlfriend, which was played by actress Kimberly Elise (character Crystal). Beau Willie was an alcoholic that possessed serious mental health issues and could not get the necessary mental health treatment he needed to deal with his schizophrenic behavior. Perry implied that this character mental state was correlated to his U.S. Service involvement and after fulfilling his duty to his country he was discharged with a plethora of military related mental health issues. Perry missed a golden opportunity to highlight what Veterans are confronted with after fighting on foreign battlefields and so-called defending the United States democracy—they are used as U.S. Foreign Policy Tools then cast aside as useless vagabonds. The government does not care about Veteran’s long term health diagnosis after they leave active duty. Beau Willie suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and because of negligence (the system failed this man)—no professional mental health treatment or counseling services were made available to deal with his diminishing cognitive ability.
It led to this black male character eventually killing his two children by dropping them out of a high rise apartment building window after going into a jealous rage (his fate was incarceration and still no treatment). The system has failed so many U.S. Veterans and it is no more evident than those soldiers who served in the Vietnam Conflict—high incidents of homelessness, substance abuse users (drugs and alcohol), mental health issues, physically disabled, unemployed, criminally prone, etc. But Perry perhaps did not have the intestinal fortitude to indict the United States Government, instead the focus became on the victim (Beau Willie) and the perpetrator (US Government) took little culpability for what they had produced—a monster. We have U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and are going undiagnosed, because the government does not want to pay for the necessary long term treatment and disability prognosis of so many war embattled soldiers.
The character Bill performed by actor Khalil Kain who met Yasmine which was performed by actress Anika Noni Rose. Bill appeared to be a standup gentleman in which based on the first date abided by all the gentleman like rules and impressed Yasmine enough that the next date would be an invitation into her home where she offered to cook him dinner. This passionate and what appeared to be respectful black man metamorphosed into an enraged violent rapist who sexually raped Yasmine. Rape is no doubt one of the most heinous and violent acts, it violates every aspect of the human essence. But Bill’s criminal act centered on the questions of trust and betrayal (which extended much further than the immediate victim and perpetrator) whether or not black women could be safe in the company of even black men who appeared nice and respectful. Bill perhaps was a serial rapist who lured his victims based on his good looks and gentlemanlike charm. He was eventually murdered (stabbed to death) by another woman whom he was attempting to rape. It is the subtle implications of the character Bill that is so everlasting and enduring in the psyche of black male and female relationship. Black men depicted as rapist is very unsettling to me as an African American male.
Earl Ofari Hutchison in his book titled, “Black Fatherhood: The Guide to Male Parenting” stated: “Now, let’s look at the other side. Many black men do whatever it takes to develop a strong and loving relationship with a black woman. They believe they have an obligation to strengthen and preserve the black family. They are aware of the proud tradition of generations of black fathers who have faced the roadblocks of racism and oppression side-by-side with their women. Who, they ask, can better understand their problems? Who is better equipped to face the difficulties with them? Who better to build the bond of unity with them than a black woman?” (Reference: Earl Ofari Hutchison; “Black Fatherhood: The Guide to Male Parenting”; p. 69).
The character Carl played by the actor Omari Latif Hardwick who was married to the character Jo played by the actress Janet Jackson. She was a highly successful business woman who had money, intelligence and sense of thriftiness—but aloof, emotionally detached and materialistic. Her husband Carl was on the Down Low; straight men who have sex with other men, but shun the label of being a homosexual and define their relationship in different terms from the meaning of traditional homosexuality behavior. This writer viewed Carl as a closet homosexual who betrayed the bonds of marriage by committing infidelity and having male sexual affairs outside of his marriage. Carl’s reckless behavior and lifestyle led to him contracting HIV and transmitting HIV to his wife and his sexual confusion infused pain and hurt into his marriage and his irresponsible sexual behavior could be a death sentence to him, his wife and to his promiscuities sexual partners that he was engaging relative to having unprotected sex. This character as well epitomized the ultimate betrayal of trust and love.
The damaging inference was that black women still can not find comfort and a level of security in marriage, it used to be the other woman, but now, it could be other man in which some black men are on the Down Low—closet homosexuals who are married or involved in heterosexual relationships, but often unknowing to their spouses and girlfriends, they are having sex with men. The author J.L. King explores this behavior in his book titled, “On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of 'Straight' Black Men Who Sleep with Men.”
Richard Lawson's character Frank who was sexually and romantically involved with Loretta Devine’s character Juanita. But Frank was unstable and it was evident that Juanita cared much more about him than he did about her. The inference was that he possible had another family and woman and was using Juanita for her kindness. Frank would move into her apartment, but often abandoned her on a number of occasions without reason or cause (would pack his belongings and leave without notice to Juanita), which led to Juanita constantly experiencing these emotional highs and lows. The lasting and dangerous inference is that black women should expect behavior from black men that is incapable of commitment and maintaining a healthy relationship.
Lastly, I very seldom, critique movies on my Blog, but I could not let Tyler Perry get away with this without raising a voice of opposition. So often, we as blacks allow other blacks, a free pass to portray images and sing lyrics that are detrimental to the well being of black life and we do nothing because of a shared ethnicity and nationality. We should demand more from our singers, rappers, musicians, entertainers, artists, scriptwriters, filmmakers, etc., other than art which contributes to our cultural demise and social destruction. Art and music are higher languages of communications, which shapes customs, folkways, mores, and impact values. We cannot continue to sit idled and do nothing and allow Tyler Perry to continue business as usual, just because he is a black man and owns a black movie company in Atlanta, or any other filmmaker to use their artistic skill level to assault so-called African American life. There are much needed conversations that the black family needs to have—but it is counterproductive to have these conversations from the vanish point of old stereotypes and images that were systematically created by external forces designed to divide and conquer. The movie gets two thumbs down from this critic.
Fahim A. Knight-El Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of goodwill, of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolism and reinterpreted the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlightened world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight-EL can be reached at fahimknight@ yahoo.com.
Stay Awake Until We Meet Again,
Fahim A. Knight-El