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Monday, November 29, 2010

Pop culture reaction: For colored girls

I'm a word and image junkie. I love the beauty of written text and the visual world. Yes, I read oodles of design blogs, but books hold my true loyalties. When an amazing piece of literature pierces my heart, like the Homer's Aeneid or Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man it lives there forever, snippets floating around my literary consciousness to give me little moments of beauty at odd times. So when For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf was made into a movie I felt a primal compulsion to see it. It is one of the greatest pieces of American poetry out there, and the author, Ntozake Shange, is a literary icon and national treasure. So I HAD to see the movie. As a woman of color in America it was my duty to see it. As an appreciator of great literature, I had to see it. As a supporter of anyone who articulates unspoken aspects of the American experience, I needed to see it.

Now having said all of that I have a rule to never see any movies with rape, uber-realistic violence, or lynching in them. Those types of violent imagery have a psychic cost to me that is never worth the social/sociological/entertainment/pop culture value of the film. (Oddly enough, I find over-the-top, unrealistic violence hilarious.)

So how can someone with this rule love poems which detail a multitude of terrible things happening to women? Easy--words, especially poems, are a whole different world from movies. Even plays leave a different taste of events. There's a beauty to poems and plays that is lacking in the bald face of movies. As I discovered, there's a distinct difference between poetic forms and the graphic visual enacting of those words. Plus, it's been a good 10-15 years since I read the poems. What do I remember about the book? The gorgeous verbiage. The power of the poetry. The wordplay.

I went off to the movie with a group of ten female friends who shared my feelings about the poems. It did not go well. I literally had to cover my eyes during the rape scene, the abortion scene, the babies-out-the-window scene. Here is an example of my internal dialogue: "Wait what is he doing? What the fuck is he doing? Ohshitohshitohshitohshit." Good god, it is not the same to read the poems as to see someone actually do it right in front of you. Without the beauty of the words you are left with an unrelenting onslaught of horrific acts. By the end, I was completely exhausted. Moved, saddened, and appreciative the work, but exhausted.

The movie had its beauty, the poetry is amazing, and watching excellent actresses enacting the words was a joy. (Special shout-out to Loretta Devine, Phylicia Rashad and Whoopi Goldberg who brought the friggin' fire and lit up the screen.) But damn! Every woman with me, was like, "WTF just happened? Why don't I remember all of that from the book/poem/play? I wasn't ready for that!" I was so glad I didn't go alone 'cause I would have been fucked up. I had two friends who went to see it by themselves and it took them days to recover.

I can't even tell you if it’s a good movie, my usual critic's eye was silenced by the juxtaposition of poetry to the visual experience, but its an important movie. Worth seeing and supporting. But be prepared. Be ready. Important doesn't preclude pain. Or as JR said, "That was profound…I think for the next six months I'm only going to see movies that have car chases and aliens in them. Maybe a year."

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