Aymar Jean Christian has an intriguing piece on his site Televisual that does a really good job summing up the last year of activity since it was announced that Tyler Perry would direct a film adaptation of the seminal choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.
But his central question – who should have directed For Colored Girls? – is the wrong question.
The real question is: Why would a studio think that it could impose a traditional narrative on a work like this in the first place, and think it would work?
Because, let's face it, this really isn't Tyler Perry's fault. He was set up to fail. And not just because he lacks even an ounce of talent, skill or artistry and was wrong for this work in every conceivable way imaginable.
No, the truth is that any director* would have failed to make a great cinematic adaptation of this work by imposing a narrative on it. Because For Colored Girls' power lies in the very fact that there is no narrative. To suggest otherwise is to completely misunderstand the original work.
One has to wonder why folks so badly wanted to make For Colored Girls into a studio film. Why would you read that work, or see a good production of it and think that you need to put a traditional film narrative on it and make it into a mainstream movie?
Is it contempt for the audience, a certain confidence that American audiences want to be spoon fed and reject difficult material or is it monumental arrogance, a fanatical belief that "we are the right studio to figure out how to turn this series of monologues into a narrative film and preserve its power" or is it that they know that black people so powerfully want to see themselves on screen that they'll plop down $10 even when they know it's some bullshit, to confirm that it's some bullshit, and thus the film is likely to be profitable?
Frankly, I think all three, with that last point probably weighing most heavily.
Some literary work should not be made into films. Or more pointedly, until studios are comfortable producing and marketing all kinds of films – films with traditional narratives, films without – they should stay away from work like For Colored Girls.
*Had this been done independently with a more nontraditional approach, Julie Dash and Kasi Lemmons would have been at the top of my list of people to direct this film.