In a just a few days, many will see the latest film from Tyler Perry, his adaptation of Ntozake Shange's legendary play, 'For Colored Girls.'
With a cast that includes Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Macy Gray, Tessa Thompson, Anika Noni Rose, Kerry Washington and Thandie Newton, Perry has assembled a powerful lineup that will fill seats in the theaters.
Considering the films that Perry has directed, including the Madea films, some may say that themes of domestic abuse and male bashing falls in line with what he does best, but Perry begs to differ.
In speaking with Black Voices, Perry addressed some issues that have concerned many when he decided to take on this legendary project.
What made you feel that you had to do this movie?
Tyler Perry: It haunted me, kept coming to me. Five or six years ago William Morris asked me if I was interested in doing it, I said no. Then Whoopi Goldberg called me about 4 years ago asked me if I wanted to do it on Broadway, I said no, "I'm still not paying attention." They keep saying 'For Colored Girls.' I didn't know anything about it. After so many different, random people over so many years I finally said ok, let me see what's here. I quit four times. I committed to it, said yes, started writing, and walked away from it four different times. It was such a fight, such a struggle. Once I really began to understand what it was and what it meant to so many people I surrendered to it. I think we did a fantastic job with it, I really do.
Was it a challenge adding storylines that weren't part of the original source material?
TP: Yeah, because "For Colored Girls" is a choreopoem, there is no story there. Women represented by different colors telling their stories. Yeah, but as I listened to it I thought it would be great to have all these different women not know each other, they're just living their lives and their paths are crossing and they finally come together at a tragic event that changes all their lives.
The directorial talent that you portrayed in this movie puts your comedic niche to a whole other level. What did you do to get that?
TP: I always could. That sounds really arrogant, but it's not 'cause I always thought I could do more but I never had the material to warrant it. I'm doing Madea, I'm doing 'Meet the Browns.' Those are funny movies that don't warrant that kind of attention, the kid gloves. This movie demanded it. I had to take my time and really walk through it. I'm grateful for Madea, all those films 'cause if I hadn't done those films, which I'll continue to do in the future, I couldn't have done 'For Colored Girls.' That's what people don't understand. It took me building this huge box of bricks to bring it to Hollywood and drop it on the table, to say, "Listen this is what I got, and this is what I want to do." They think why don't a bunch of people put the money together and do this film? It doesn't work that way. It takes a whole machine that has to be behind you, and if I hadn't done a billion dollars of business in five years with Lionsgate I would not have been able to do this film. There's two different brands at work, there's a Tyler Perry brand which is Madea, Brown, funny, joking, having fun, then there's 34th Street Films that I just started which will be doing more films of this type?
How important has it been that black audiences, your backbone, in helping get your films out there to the screen?
TP: There's nothing more important. This audience that has stood with me, had they not been there, there would be no 'For Colored Girls.' There was a black hole, no pun intended, with black films. There was nothing going on. You build something that will work, make it strong, make it solid, so you can branch out and do other things. My audiences have been incredibly loyal, and they're still with me today. I just finished a tour and saw arenas that are packed to the rafters, so they're still with me and I'm grateful to God for it every day.
What do you say to black men who feel this movie was about male bashing?
TP: I think if you look at it with tunnel vision that's exactly what you would think, but if you open your mind up to it here's what you'll find: It's a way for you to understand women. It's a way to peek into their lives. It's a way to see the feelings and things they are going through. I think if men really paid attention to it it could really help not only their dealings with women and their relationships, but with themselves. Did I see myself in this film? Am I abusive? Am I mean? That's why Hill Harper's character was so important to me 'cause he was none of those things. He was a good man who loved his woman. I thought it was very important to show there are good black men who love their women. I don't think it's male bashing. It's these women's story. If that's the road we go down, that happened when Ntozake did it the first time in the 70s. You could say nothing's changed, it's a bit of history repeating, but the truth is if you look at what it is it could teach us all something.
How important was it to have theater actors such as Whoopi Goldberg and Phylicia Rashad in this film to give it credibility?
TP: I didn't even think of them as being theater actors. Phylicia Rashad, her role was much smaller, but the first scene she did was in the streets with her saying, "Help her, help her!" After that I went and rewrote some stuff for her, because I thought this woman was powerful! The scene with her and Kimberly in the house where she tells her to breathe, that was the last thing we shot, I wrote it a month later because she was so pivotal to the story. They all brought something to me. Macy Gray, who was not theater, just blew me away!
Give us a window into your whole program, your whole approach?
TP: Here's the thing, Tyler Perry branded things will stay under the brand of family PG fun. 34th Street Films is just like Disney had Disney for kids, they came out with Touchstone which was their adult version. This is whatever filmmakers I want to bring up, whatever stories they want to tell. I'm doing this one right now with Tina Chisolm, who is a first time director, called 'We the Peeples.' I'm standing with her, I'm looking for other filmmakers who want to come through the 34th Street doors and help build them. That's the total purpose. I think they're both very important. This is my first film for 34th Street, and the first one that's rated "R." It's a different kind of business.
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