Salamishah Tillet in The Root:
Leave it to Tyler Perry, a man best known for playing Madea, a modern-day Mammy, to try to redefine black feminism for the mainstream.
Perry admits that he didn't know much about Ntozake Shange's choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, but that didn't stop him from taking on this black feminist bible nevertheless.
First produced on Broadway in 1976, For Colored Girls was written by Shange during the height of both the black power and feminist movements. Shange's play, much like the 1970s debuts of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Alice Walker's The Third Life of Grange Copeland, was a coming-of-age story that uniquely featured the point of view and political experiences of black women.
Breaking long-standing cultural silence on topics such as domestic violence, sexual abuse and abortion in the experimental form of a choreopoem that combined words with movement, Shange created what the New Yorker's Hilton Als once described as a “firebomb of a poem. Through the 'colored girls,' the disenfranchised heard a voice they could recognize, one that combined the trickster spirit of Richard Pryor with a kind of mournful blues.”
But the play's boldness was not simply in its diagnoses of black women's blues but in its unwavering belief that black feminism was a viable remedy for those blues. Soyica Diggs Colbert, a scholar of African-American theater at Dartmouth College, says that the play's ultimate message was always one of black freedom.
“Through dancing, singing and coming together,” Dr. Colbert notes, “or what the play describes as 'a layin on of hands,' the women developed rites that begin to repair the damage caused by domestic and sexual violence. No easy resolution, but a triumphant one nonetheless.”
In the hands of Perry, one of Hollywood's most conservative black evangelical voices, Shange's feminist message of gender equality, reproductive justice and sexual liberation has been seriously compromised.