For Colored Girls: Interview with director Tyler Perry

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"For Colored Girls," the adaptation of Ntozake Shange's play, is directed by Tyler Perry. The film, which stars Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, and Whoopie Goldberg is being released by Lionsgate on November 5. 

Adapting the play

 

“‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf’ is a brilliant, important work that should have a place in film history,” he states.  “It had been 35 years, and still it hadn’t been made into a film.”

 

“This is my tenth film, and it took me nine to feel ready to tackle something like this,” he acknowledges.  “I was nervous because it’s such a powerful, iconic piece and there are so many people who live, eat, breathe and die ‘Colored Girls.’  I had to be sure I could get it right.”

 

Perry met with Shange in New York City.  “We had a conversation about the play and making it into a film, and what I saw for it,” he recalls.  “All the help I could ask for, Ntozake gave me.  And she told me, ‘Do what you feel.’”

 

In shaping the film’s narrative, Perry turned to Shange’s original text.   “Ntozake told me that each poem represented a different experience from a woman,” he explains.  “I thought the best way to express that in cinematic form was through an ensemble drama, with women of different generations, at different stages in their lives.  I chose about fourteen of the poems and wrote a film around them, while leaving their language intact.”

 

On his dazzling cast

 

“These women are just stellar,” he states.  Any concerns he might have had had about importing Shange’s verses to film dissolved in the face of the cast’s performances.  “I always respected the brilliance of what Ntozake had written.   But until I heard those words spoken through these women – Phylicia, Kimberly, Loretta, Thandie, Janet, Kerry, Whoopi, Anika, Tessa and Macy — with such conviction and passion, from such a deep and authentic  place, I did not know how special the piece was.”

 

Music

 

The filming gathered three professional opera singers: Karen Slack, who performed the solo; Andrea Jones-Sojola and Elissa Johnson.  Perry calls it one of his favorite moments in the film.  “Aaron is an incredibly talented composer and he outdid himself with ‘La Donna In Viola.’  It was so soul-stirring to listen to these real opera singers sing this magnificent, powerful aria.”

 

Messages of strength

 

Perry chose to end the film with a scene on a Harlem rooftop, where the characters gather to celebrate the expansion of Juanita’s health-and-wellness clinic.  “For me, the rooftop is about being open and going out into the world.  All these women have been confined in their own spaces and in their own minds and in their own colors.  And here they are all coming together in an open space, looking into the distance and the unlimited possibilities that they can experience and express.”

 

The filmmaker adds, “The messages of the film are not mine.  They’re Ntozake’s.  They are messages of strength.  They’re messages of hope.  No matter what the tragedy, you can get up.  If I had to sum it up one phrase, it would be: You’re not alone.”