Like millions of other black women in America, I waited with great anticipation for the release of the movie For Colored Girls. I saw the movie opening weekend with my “sister buddy group” in northern Virginia and although it was tough to watch at times, I liked the movie immensely.
For the record, I like Tyler Perry too and all I believe he has done is draw awareness to the very modern and very serious issues surrounding the black community at all levels. You have to admit that Mr. Perry is an equal opportunity “outer” of all the things that still plague us as black people in America — whether we are rich and lonely, educated but unwise, poor and happy, church going, single moms, drug abusers, adulterous vixens, or involved with abusive and unhealthy relationships (be they male or female).
So, I am a bit perplexed as to the black male outrage and outcry against the film, given the context and background in which Perry adapted the work (For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf) which was originally featured as a play in the mid-1970s and as a book in 1977. My concern is that once again black men are not seeing the proverbial forest for the trees.
They miss once again the very important message that Perry often depicts in his films about black women. Most importantly, they miss the very real and very personal pain that many black women still find themselves enduring some 33 years after Ms. Shange wrote her book in 1977.
One of the black men who raised his voice the loudest this past week was the Washington Post’s columnist and my friend Courtland Milloy, in a piece titled, “For Black Men Who Have Considered Homicide After Watching Another Tyler Perry Movie”. Malloy wrote a scathing review of the movie and suggested that its portrayals of black men as sociopaths has become all too common in modern cinema. While, I won’t disagree with him that the images of black men in this movie were particularly jarring and disturbing, let me be equally clear that I for one have grown equally weary of women who look like me, have educated themselves, played by all the rules, love God, and are decent human beings yet have to endure cinematic roles that portray them as broken, depressed, psychotic, weak, angry, overbearing, overly religious to a point of fanaticism, isolated (I agree that Janet Jackson’s character in the movie was very icy and dead), indecisive, abused, and sexually aggressive.
Join the club brothers. Black female depictions in films are no better than yours. But, here is the point we all should grasp: Art imitates life. Sadly, the depictions in movies about the lives of black people often represent a majority of those within our community. Are there exceptions to the rule — of course. One only need look at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to see a shining example of a good black man, and a beautiful black woman living in harmony and happiness with one another.
We have always had examples like this in the black community — but sadly we don’t focus on those examples enough. I for one, am committed to changing the image of strong black women in America to one that dispels the mythology and stereotypes about us, to one that transforms and redefines us as the beautiful, kind, compassionate, loving, devoted, loyal sisters that every black man if he is honest knows that we are and have always been.
Courtland, I will be happy to join you and the brothers for a summit next year where black men and black women can come together and work on these images that so negatively depict us in film and otherwise. I agree it is time for the narrative to change. It is time for black love to thrive. It is time for us to leave this present and next generation of black women and black men feeling good about their lives, and about their prospects for love, happiness and fulfillment.
This is something we as black men and women must do for ourselves and it will only start if brothers stop being defensive and start to take responsibility for your part in our drama as black women. Trust it is time we held the sisters to account too because we are right there with you in terms of the work we need to do on ourselves.
But let us be clear, our problems as a people are rooted in something very deep and very unique. Our context matters. This is not something a government program can fix. As President Obama once said: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
Sophia A. Nelson is a JET Magazine Columnist, and MSNBC Analyst and the author of the forthcoming book, “Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama” (Benbella, May 2011).