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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

Member of:

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Representative of:

Hope College, Holland, MI


For Colored Girls

February 19, 2011

I have been a sharp critic of Tyler Perry's plays and films including his landmark venture into sitcoms with "Meet the Browns" and "House of Payne." At some point, the incessant caricatures and buffoonery simply became too much for me. Really, how many times can Madea pull a gun out or slap somebody before the comedic attempt runs out of funny? Also, while I have no thespian skills myself, it seems rather obvious that the quality of acting in much of Perry's work has been poor. To put it lightly, Spike Lee (among others) sits in a totally different stratosphere than Perry as a writer/director/producer. Perry's works have garnered much success, but not industry respect as someone fully invested in and capable of producing works that do more than merely entertain. We need works that challenge, inform, and inspire the African American community and the majority culture to begin having the tough conversations that are needed for true, holistic improvement.

Perry is no Spike Lee. Even still, I firmly believe that Perry's latest film, a reinterpretation of Ntozake Shange's 1975 choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, is hands-down his best cinematic attempt at producing something that is as insightful as it is realistic. As someone who has read the book and watched the Broadway play, and is a fan of both, I understand the discontent that has been voiced about Perry's contemporary interpretation.[1] Nevertheless, as a noble attempt to speak powerfully into the psychosocial silence of the African American community regarding relationships, I think that For Colored Girls is worth seeing. If not for any other reason, For Colored Girls provides a means by which African American men and women, specifically, can engage in meaningful conversation around why and how healthy relationships can at times mightily escape our grasp:

Relationships between Black men and women have had a peculiar evolution. Unlike the White family, which is typically believed to be patriarchal and sustained by the economic dependence of women, the Black dyad has been characterized by more egalitarian roles and economic parity in North America. The system of slavery did not permit Black males to assume the superordinate role in the family constellation, since the female was not economically dependent on him. Hence, relationships between the genders were ordered along sociopsychological dimensions rather than reflecting an economic compulsion to marry and remain married. This fact in part explains the unique trajectory of Black male-female relationships.[2]

African American women have unjustly been subjugated by the dualistic pressure to succeed in the face of oppression both as an African American and a woman[3]; that is, to overcome unjust obstacles from within and without. It has no doubt created an extremely complicated, complex dynamic because, according to Brenda Wade as quoted in an interview for Essence, slavery created a huge wedge between African American men and women, which lead to the belief that you, "Never let a Black woman think she can count on a Black man, and never let a Black man think he can take care of his woman."[4] Samuel Roberts points out:

The relations between black men and women continue to be fraught with much tension and ambiguity. The absence of so many men from the marriage pool either through imprisonment or early death through inner-city violence further frustrates the ability of young women to find eligible partners and thus form eventual stable family lives."[5]

One of the most memorable scenes from For Colored Girls was when Jo (played by Janet Jackson) told her husband, Carl (played by Omari Hardwick), "I know I have issues with trust, but when you make choices like this it doesn't help me not one bit." He responds, "You don't just have trust issues. You got issues." Come to find out, both Jo and Carl got issues, and Lord knows that all of humanity has issues, too, so learning from the good, the bad, and the ugly of one another's experiences is invaluable.

As a budding Christian theologian and clergyman, my interest in films like For Colored Girls surround its ability to help us explore the historical and contemporary divides between African American men and women from a decidedly Christian worldview. It doesn't rise to the depth and significance of films like The Women of Brewster Place, The Color Purple, or Jungle Fever, to name a few, but it is a provocative take on some of the present-day struggles of African American women (and men) in a society that continues to profit from their exploitation. 


[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory?id=12046750
[2] Leonor B. Johnson, Robert Staples, Black Families at the Crossroads: Challenges and Prospects (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005), 153.
[3] Charisse Jones, Kumea Shorter-Gooden, Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004), 147-175.
[4] Robin D. Stone, "The State of Our Unions: A Snapshot of Marriage in Black America," Essence, August, 2005.
[5] Samuel K. Roberts, African American Christian Ethics (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), 229-230.


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