When Tyler Perry’s Book-to-Film Adaptations Are Enuf.

... and Mariah Carey as the Lady in...?

We’ll preface this as we do most of our write-ups on Tyler Perry: we, here at PostBourgie, are not blind TP haters. We have never claimed that he’s “setting the race back” or “cooning.” We don’t think he’s an unabashed embarrassment to Black people. So we hope comments on this piece won’t reflect those kinds of sentiments. In fact, every now and again, we actually kind of admire his hustle. In a way.

That said, news of Perry’s official casting list for his big-screen adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf went live last night. And we’ve got things to say about it.

As a personal preface, I should also state that I’m not married to this play. In fact, I’ve only read it in passing glances—and that, quite recently—so I don’t count it among my list of formative or transformative literature/performance.

That said, I’ve been voicing concern about Tyler Perry helming this project for quite some time. And now that it looks like he’s firming up his plans to actually do this (not that I really doubted him), I have to pipe up once again.

Black Voices’ BV on Movies article informs us of the following:

At last night’s premiere for his latest film, ”Why Did I Get Married Too?,’ the black box-office maverick revealed that the cast will include Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Jurnee Smollett, Kimberly Elise, Kerry Washington, and Macy Gray.

… Is that right?

Look, there are some stellar actresses on that list, Whoopi Goldberg and Phylicia Rashad among them. The rest of them, with the exception of Macy Gray, have turned in at least one exceptional performance* during their career spans.

So it’s not even about the casting, really.

It’s Perry himself. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: he’s all wrong for this.

The Black Voices article gives us glimpses into why this is so problematic. The writer uses phrasing like, “writer/director/producer Tyler Perry has selected the cast for next film, ”For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,’” and “… The film is scheduled to shoot in June in New York with a possible winter 2010/ 2011 release date.”

Statements like these only serve to remind us how hands-on (read: controlling) Perry is about pet projects and how hastily he tends to put them together.

A six-month turnaround (shot in June, released this winter) for a Broadway classic? That’s unsettling.

Also: let’s face it. This isn’t the first time he’s worked with Oscar- and Tony-caliber actresses and still churned out a seriously sub-par product.

And there’s still no mention of a choreographer. Considering this thing starts shooting in three months, that’s a definite problem.

In fact, it leads me to my worst fear for the film: that it’ll drop the choreo-poem structure altogether and follow Perry’s patented overstuffed, overwrought ensemble melodrama format**.

I’m not an expert on for colored girls, but I know enough about it to recognize that its film adaptation should more closely resemble Chicago or (gag) Dreamgirls than it should I Can Do Bad All By Myself– which isn’t to say that this play should be treated exactly like a musical; but it should absolutely retain the bulk of its stagy conventions and scene transitions in a silver screen interpretation.

Off all his experience with “musicals,” Perry has never even staged a play with strong choreography. What will he do with a film whose very success as a play was predicated on tightness and synchrony of movement?

Finally, there’s a gnawing worry floating in the background of all this: what if this film sets yet another Perry precedent? When people reach a level of film-producing success this high, they “option” every classic work of literature or theatrical work they can get their hands on. We’ve seen it at play with Oprah and her uneven interpretations of Beloved and Their Eyes Were Watching God. And here it is again with Perry, who (along with Oprah) pushed Precious to the Oscar fore, when they signed on as producers at the last minute, just weeks before announcing he’d snatched up the rights to for colored girls.

If it’s this easy for him now, what other works do we have to look forward to? Tyler Perry’s Tyler Perry Production of Invisible Man, starring Lance Gross? Tyler Perry’s Passing? Tyler Perry’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, with himself in the role of Maya Angelou?***

Come on.

*Yes. We know it’s risky to call Mariah Carey’s few minutes of compelling work in Precious “exceptional.” That would suggest that it completely acquits her from Glitter. And that is not something we want to suggest. Ever. At all.

**And I’m not saying that this format doesn’t have its merits. Guess who plans to be all up in and through an opening weekend showing of Why Did I Get Married, Too?

***We could do this all day. If you’re bored at work, add your own guesses at Perry’s next big book-to-screen adaptation in the comments section.

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slb (aka Stacia L. Brown) is a writer, mother, and college instructor in Baltimore, MD. Check her out here: http://stacialbrown.com and here: http://beyondbabymamas.com.

39 comments to When Tyler Perry’s Book-to-Film Adaptations Are Enuf.

  • RtG

    I was really happy to read in this piece that you’re okay with the casting. On other blogs and comments I’ve read today, people are going crazy over the casting of Mariah. I never saw Glitter, but I did see Precious. And I think Mariah held her own.

    Also? It’s important to note that while Perry has announced some of the cast, he hasn’t announced their roles. The roles in the play are different and nuanced. I would think Lady in Red, for example, would require a better actress than, say, Lady in Purple.

    • Robyn

      I can’t say I’m really bothered by any of this, but if I had to pick at something, Janet would be it. I’ve yet to see her turn in even a marginally good performance and it almost seems as if her and TP are using each other — he for her name recognition/brand, and she for his willingness to let her… errrm, practice.

      • slb

        Robyn: Janet *is* kind of suspect. I didn’t mind her in Why Did I Get Married? I mean… except for the whole “I’m a doctor, okay?!”/”Perfect Patty messed up” part. And that was her Big Dramatic Scene.

        So I’m not sure what that means.

        She looks like she’s gonna be mad entertaining in this sequel, though.

    • slb

      yeah. aside from the people he recycles from his stage plays, Perry’s casting is never *all* bad. dude had the good sense to cast Cicely Tyson/Kimberly Elise to counteract *himself* in Diary/Madea’s Family Reunion. He’s worked with Cathy Bates, Alfre Woodard, Angela Bassett (who I’m not all that fond of, but who every seems to think is pretty great), and a ton of other top-notch actors.

      i didn’t doubt he’d go pretty high-end for this.

      my question is: “can he *direct* them?” and then, as a follow up, “… direct them to do *what?*”

      i’m worried about this script.

  • RtG

    Ah, the script. Yes, that’s a whole ‘nother thang all together.

  • Steve

    Macy Gray had her moment in Training Day.

  • Scipio Africanus

    I want to see that warrant, boss.

  • Val

    I never saw Glitter but Mariah was pretty good in a film called Tennessee.

    What concerns me is all of these books turned to film from different eras released back to back. That gives them no context other than Black people have problems.

    I guess this is Tyler’s Oscar try considering Hollywood loves to see Black folk in films like this. Look for Whoopi to get a nomination.

    Sigh.

    • Scipio Africanus

      *Sigh* So apparently I’m one of maybe a score of people on the North American Continental shelf who actually saw Glitter in the theatres.

      That movie came out the Friday after 9/11 (so 9/14/2001) and the girl I was in love with, whose Friend Zone I was in, and I wanted to do something that would take our minds off the geopolitical crap. What better option than to clown a sure-to-be-trainwreck from Mariah for an hour and a half, grab buffalo wings afterwards, then go home and have wonderful coitus? Well, she only checked off boxes 1 and 2, so I made the best of the evening, and that movie’s clowning potential runneth over.

      • Val

        I think Mariah was having one of her nervous breakdowns during the Glitter debacle. So I don’t really hold it against her. But I can’t believe you actually went to see it. I suppose you were really in love.

  • I think I was so happy that Beyonce isn’t starring in this film, that I skipped over Janet, Mariah & Macy. I’m not a fan of either of their acting skills. Thanks to netflix, I just saw the screen adaption of “for colored girls…” and I dont believe any of those women should be in this project.

    I think Phyliscia and Whoopi will be great, but I was reminded that most of the characters were young women. Is Tyler going to add something to new? *sigh*

    Next thing we know, he’ll be remaking “The Color Purple”.

    • Val

      “I think I was so happy that Beyonce isn’t starring in this film, that I skipped over Janet, Mariah & Macy. …”

      OMG, thank you so much for saying what I was thinking! Last time I mentioned Mrs. Carter and her minimal talents I got a little grief for doing so.

    • This was my first reaction too! YES! No Beyonce!

      The casting of Rashad and Goldberg who are erm slightly older than anyone in the source material means he may try to get funky with the script. He’s writing it right? Madea cameo? :S The speed of the production schedule points to him doing lots of the same things he’s always done as well. I’m not excited.

  • Scipio Africanus

    -Tyler Perry’s “Up From Slavery” (Shemar Moore cast as Booker T.)

    -Tyler Perry’s “Das Kapital – How The Bourgoisie really went down” (he could actually play a really compelling Marx, I think)

    -Tyler Perry’s “Paradise Lost” (this could fit into his love/hate relationship with light-skinned red devils – Lynn Whitfield much?)

    -Tyler Perry’s “Wuthering Heights” (if Ole’ Dirty were still alive, he’d be Heathcliff all the way)

    -Tyler Perry’s “Street Frogs” (who can do Hip-Hop better than a frog can? – Tyler Perry, that’s who)

    -Tyler Perry’s “The Aeneid” (with an original author named Vergil, this one sort of demands an all black cast, no?)

    more to come.

  • I cannot bring myself to hate anything Whoopi Goldberg is in. (She worked with the Muppets!!) So hats off to Mr. Perry for filling his cast with talent that will most likely make people forget the lack of it in the writing.

  • Steve

    It’s unfortunate that Zhingha Stewart made an original pitch for this movie and got shot down.

  • keke

    I’m sorry but I can’t see past Macy Gray being cast. That just blew it for me.

    As for TP…it would really be nice if he would allow other voices/visionaries to work with him in the process. Writer/director/producer?? Can someone else get a word or an idea in edgewise? This formula may work well for his fans but I just don’t dig it. I also feel like he tries to tell too many stories at once. In one movie, he has about five different storylines at play and the movie as a whole doesn’t quite come together for me.

    But I came to the realization a long time ago that TP doesn’t make movies for me. I have tried to watch the Madea stuff, I laughed at a few things the first time I saw “Diary”, but then I watched a play and another movie and I realized that he just recycles the same material, so I got bored.

    And what is the rush for this movie? A Winter 2010/2011 release date? I assume that they are trying to get this released in time for Oscar season.

  • Steve

    Meanwhile , in other news, this is Gabourey’s next project. http://www.shadowandact.com/?p=12159

  • The biggest I have with this project is that–AND I KNOW THIS IS A WHOLLY PROBLEMATIC CLAIM–queer, black male artists traditionally have had a problem with representing the black woman and her interests. This is evident in works ranging from George C. Wolfe’s THE COLORED MUSEUM and Lee Daniels’ PRECIOUS. Perry himself has trouble understanding feminism and the politics of the female body. For a piece like for colored girls…, in which black feminism is at the fore of its aesthetic and politics, I worry that he won’t know what to do with it. The problem with art–and with the concept of director-as-master-artists–is that people assume anyone who is (or claims to be) an artist is up to the task. But no; art is very much bound by aesthetic, political, and personal concerns that emerge FROM particular experiences. for colored girls… needs a black woman director, I very much believe. Perry, as a queer black man, identifies with its politics, I am sure. But at the end of the day, he is a MAN and his experiences as an oppressed subject do not align with those of women. I feel like Perry (and Daniels) appropriate the black female voice, leaving women out in the cold. That is to say, Perry AGAIN is speaking for a woman when we have–indeed NEED–women to speak for themselves. This is a problem with drag, for instance: the male performer assumes the mantle of womanhood and tells the female what the proper “woman” looks like, is supposed to be. (In psychoanalytic terms, we would say this is a PHALLIC functioning of power.)

    I think at the end of the day, Perry’s production of for colored girls… will be maudlin, melodramatic, and misogynistic b/c that is what Perry often produces when depicting the black woman.

    (Not to mention, moreover, that he is not skilled enough as a director/producer to tackle such complicated, detailed work as Shange’s piece. As a cultural historian and critic who specializes in African American cultural expression, trust me on this: Shange’s piece is very complex and beyond Perry’s skill set. I am certain that he will change it to make it HIS own–which is a problem. for colored girls… should always be HER own.)

    • Oy. Where to start?

      fam, just because you issue the fucked-upedness of something in the disclaimer doesn’t mean it isn’t fucked up. (so why do it?)

      despite all the insinuations about dude’s sexuality, none of us is a position to comment on it. Don’t do it.

      But you’re saying he can’t/shouldn’t make effective films about black women? Don’t you think that’s a pretty bizarre assertion, considering that his audience is primarily black women?

      • Certainly my disclaimer was, like most disclaimers, fucked up–but not for the reason you say. My disclaimer was about representations of women by queer, black men, NOT about TP’s sexuality. Frankly, some of us ARE in a position to comment on his sexuality. I said he was “queer,” not gay. There is a difference and it has as much do with his modes of cultural production as it does who he sleeps with. You have conflated queer with gay–and I am separating the two.

        Moreover, just because his audience is primarily women does not mean those works are effectively POLITICALLY. I am talking about Perry’s ability to make effective aesthetic and political choices when it comes to performances of radical black feminism–which for colored girls… is–he falls short. Even something as maudlin as DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN does not approach the kind of political claims that black feminism articulates. To wit, the primary audience of many a BET program is black people. That doesn’t mean the producers, directors, and actors that work at BET can make a POLITICALLY effective production of Baraka’s THE DUTCHMAN or Kennedy’s FUNNYHOUSE OF A NEGRO. The point is that audiences consume images and aesthetics that are damaging to the their concerns. (Like poor whites refusing to align with other poor people and instead supporting conservative ideals of “free market” and “de-regulation” at the expense of their own interests.) This does not mean those who produce such images are in any way equipped to make politically, radical art about the audience. In the antebellum period, many blacks loved minstrelsy, too. That does not mean T.D. Rice–the father of blackface minstrelsy–could produce something that expressed the radical politics of, say, Frederick Douglass. In fact, THAT is a great way to think of this whole thing: Tyler Perry:the politics of for colored girs… :: T.D. Rice: the politics of Frederick Douglass.

  • *”biggest problem I have…”

  • tabitha

    i’m concerned that actors don’t respect Tyler as a director. i’m certain they LOVE him because of the way he treats them and takes care of them when their in his films. they also respect his hustle and loyalty but as a creator or creative mind, i feel like he’s dismissed (and justly so) b/c he lacks nuance and vision. as a result, Tyler often gets top names for his films but sup-par performances. of course a big part of that can be contributed to the dull hammer over the head writing style. that being said- Tyler is not the type of director who should be handling such delicate subject matter. it requires a gentle guidance that he’s not proven he can deliver. i fear the script will fall prey to over-explanation and the actors won’t have room to pour themselves into the roles. i’m keeping my eye on this project and hoping for the best.

  • Joshunda

    I’m annoyed. Not by the casting, though I will say that I wish he would branch out a bit. Will somebody give Angela Damn Bassett a role? She’s a great actress for crying outloud? Is she too busy or too black? Annoyed!

    Also, on the dancing tip. Where is Debbie Allen? If she’s too old school for choreography purposes and Tyler Perry wants to be hip, why not get the chick who helps the kids out on “Making The Band”?

    My annoyance and frustration, as a fan of the play (I directed a production of it in high school, actually and I am a huge Ntozake Shange fan) is not that I don’t think Tyler can do the project justice, but rather that he won’t. And it’s not for lack of resources or time. It’s just for lack of genuine input from others on how to produce a thing of timeless beauty, not just some pet project you do so you can say you do it.

    Another thing is that I am still angry that the “Precious: A Novel Based on Push by Sapphire” screenplay is being sold separately from Push. I hope that these kinds of shenanigans don’t spill over into “For Colored Girls.” Because then I might have to write Tyler a letter.

  • La

    I understand the annoyance of having Tyler Perry direct something like “For Colored Girls…” I will admit that when I first heard the news I rolled my eyes as far back in my head as they could possibly go. Mostly, I took issue with the fact that Perry is singularly helming a story by a woman about women for women.

    However, much of the criticism in the article misses the mark.

    I should say, in the interest of transparency, that I have been involved with mounting productions of this show 3 times (twice as an actor, once as a choreographer) and one of the projects I had to complete to get my BFA was a rather sizeable research paper on “For Colored Girls…” So I am fairly familiar with the work.

    First things first; “For Colored Girls…” should in NO way resemble Chicago or Dreamgirls. A musical is defined as a show that uses music to tell the story; “Colored Girls” uses music to enhance the story. There is a very large difference.

    The fear stemming from the fact that a choreographer hasn’t been named is fairly misplaced. Shange’s use of the term “choreopoem” was not expressly coined to speak to actual choreography, but rather define as much as possible the structure and rhythm of the piece and to detail the importance organic movement has in revealing the characters, their stories, and how they relate to one another. In fact, in Ms. Shange’s original mounting of the show, she encouraged improvisation because she felt it was an important part of lending authenticity to the various movements of the different characters, and therefore in essence, black women. If Perry is going to follow this vision of the choreopoem, a choreographer might be helpful, but not vitally important. In fact, many directors have chosen to mount “For Colored Girls…” without any hard choreography at all.

    The casting is subjective; there are a few on the list that I give side eyes to, but if they are cast appropriately (Jurnee as the Lady in Blue, for example) the casting may not hurt as much as we fear.

    Assuming Tyler follows in at least some of the framework of the Broadway show, a 6 month turnaround is nothing for a show with minimal costumes, little props or sets, and what is, essentially, a short play of monologues interspersed with dialogue.

    But really, the overall point is, at this juncture, all of these things are assumptions. We don’t know the direction that Tyler will take or the places that these actresses will take each character to. I have plenty of criticism of Tyler Perry as a multihyphenate, and think much of it, much like some that has been discussed here, is very valid. But this is not that. Why don’t we wait to see what direction he goes with this before having very little information and deciding it will suck?

    • slb

      Thanks for your comment and I appreciate your perspective.

      As points of clarity, I address a couple things:

      First things first; “For Colored Girls…” should in NO way resemble Chicago or Dreamgirls. A musical is defined as a show that uses music to tell the story; “Colored Girls” uses music to enhance the story. There is a very large difference.

      I mentioned those as examples of films that retain a rather stage-like quality, despite the obvious stage/screen differences, not to suggest that I consider For Colored Girls a musical.

      The fear stemming from the fact that a choreographer hasn’t been named is fairly misplaced. Shange’s use of the term “choreopoem” was not expressly coined to speak to actual choreography, but rather define as much as possible the structure and rhythm of the piece and to detail the importance organic movement has in revealing the characters, their stories, and how they relate to one another. In fact, in Ms. Shange’s original mounting of the show, she encouraged improvisation because she felt it was an important part of lending authenticity to the various movements of the different characters, and therefore in essence, black women.

      While “hard choreography” may not be essential to an adaptation of this play, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that one should be consulted for this, even if only as a “organic movement” consultant. Perry’s oeuvre does nothing to suggest that he’d know how to foster/rein in improvisational movement.

      And ultimately, I raised lack-of-choreographer as a concern as an argument for the probability that Perry intends to “adapt” this as a melodrama and not as a “performance.”

      Back to the (probably poor) Chicago/Dreamgirls references, this is a work that should be adapted for film as a stage-like performance.

  • I remember watching the PBS(?) version of the play years ago – it was a pretty good production. Does anyone know if it was released on DVD? That might be the standard to judge any new project by…

  • R.A.B.

    Zoom out: if Tyler Perry makes the same movie over and over again for the entirety of his career, need I disown him more than once?

    One.

  • I, for one, can’t wait to see Tyler Perry presents Tyler Perry’s Emperor Jones, written, produced, directed by and starring…Tyler Perry.

    Anyway. I’ve given Tyler Perry’s movies plenty of shots and I’ve been indifferent at best, disgusted and annoyed at worst. But who knows. Maybe this project will cause him to stretch and he’ll make something that will shock the hell out of everyone.

    Hopefully?

  • A few assumptions are being made here – notably, on the translation of the work from stage to screen.

    I certainly don’t expect, and actually hope that this won’t be a literal adaptation of the material. If it is, it’ll almost certainly fail!

    Shange’s original choreopoem, as it was conceived, was meant for the stage, not for the theatrical screen; Tyler Perry’s job is to create a version of that original work, for the movie theatre, not to simply transfer Shange’s work, as it exists, from one medium to another. So, I’m certain some creative liberties will be taken, in order to make the work much more accessible to movie-going audiences, for better or for worse.

    I don’t subscribe to that school of thought that prefers movie adaptations of material that exists in other mediums (books, plays, etc), be near-replicas of the original works. They are separate, in my humble opinion, and each really should stand on its own.

    That said, based on all I’ve heard and read about the project (and from Tyler Perry himself), I’d say we can expect something more along the lines of an ensemble film like “Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her” which was made about 10 years ago – essentially, a collection of several loosely connected stories, each dealing with women traveling from tribulation to eventual catharsis.

    Perry himself said the film would follow a similar structure as “Crash,” stating: “The movie’s a lot like ‘Crash’ at the beginning. Nobody knows each other, they’re just all crossing each other’s paths until the end when they all wind up in this colored girls’ center where they all go through this 12-step healing program, and it is a way to get every one of Ntozake’s points into a movie. The play was all abstract. There was no finite story to it.”

    So, it’ll neither be closer to “Chicago” nor “I Can Do Bad All By Myself.”

    As for its production/release dates… it’s still not entirely certain when it will go into production and when it will be released. The dates have changed at least once already, and, until I see an official press release, I can’t be sure of any dates yet, because they could very well change again. For example, when the project was first announced last fall, the film was supposed to shoot in November & December; and Lionsgate planned a 2010 release. Obviously, the former never happened.

    With Tyler Perry currently on his nationwide “Madea” tour through April (and possibly even longer), the film might not even go into production until later on this year. Unless it’s being secretly worked on.

    At one point, it was believed that he was going to be directing from a script that had already been written, by Nzingha Stewart, who was originally supposed to direct the film, from her screenplay, before Perry stepped in.

    I’m no fan of Tyler Perry’s, but, I’d say let’s see how it all shakes out, before we start panicking. I’d like to think that Perry understands the significance of the task he’s chosen to undertake. And, by some accounts, the man feels that he has something to prove to all his naysayers, and this is the project he hopes will go a long way towards altering those less than desirable perceptions of him and his abiities. I’d also say that I think he’d want to impress Shange, or at least, not have her be repelled by what she sees.

    Sorry for the lengthy post…

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