*The time is finally here! Tyler Perry’s film adaption of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Consider Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf” is slated to hit theaters in the blink of an eye.
EURweb.com has been doing our best to keep our readership informed regarding all of the buzz surrounding the film. From the opinions of mainstream critics to a conversation with Tyler Perry himself by Uncle Lee regarding his take on the criticisms.
Today we bring you our coversation with the underrated actor Richard Lawson, who plays the companion of Loretta Divine’s character in the film. He’s been doing his thing since 1969 and has even appeared in a “Blacula” film! It doesn’t get any blacker for than that.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Lawson of the film. “First of all, it’s a historic event to have so many black people of such stature in a movie and for someone to take on a very difficult piece of material. It’s hard to translate something from a book to stage, to film or play or poems, in this case to film. It’s very, very difficult to do that seamlessly. I thought Tyler did a outstanding job in being able to do that. I think the performances were outstanding. There were times a seam or two would show, but I think Ntozake’s material held up pretty well.”
A seam or two? That raised an eyebrow for us because people are already giving their “opinions” on the film, even those who haven’t even seen it. Lawson clarified for us.
“In terms of when you take a poem and it put it in a person’s mouth and that person is in a real situation. When you’re in a theater and someone is talking about something that provokes images, the image that is provoked is based upon your reality in your own life,” he explained. “Therefore it’s perfect in your own mind. When you literalize it and bring it down to a specific situation and circumstance and someone is looking at a situational interpretation of something, which makes it very literal, you lose the fantasy. You lose the reality of a universal idea and it’s universal because of the fact that a person is able to make it what they want it to be. If in a book a writer says ‘he takes her in his arms and kisses her passionately’ that passionate kiss is going to be according to your own standards, to your own reality. When this same scene is put upon a screen that passionate reality becomes very specific for those two people on screen and it may not match what you thought to be passionate and that’s the challenge in bringing material across lines. So, I thought there were moments in the film when you heard the poetry, and there were moments in the film when they poetry was generic and organic from the performer.”
Okay, we guess he clarified that for us, or made it far more complicated than it needed to be. He’s an artist, perhaps so much an artist that what he’s saying is simply beyond our comprehension. Must be scary to have powers like that. On a more serious note, Lawson is more qualified than most to speak on the work of Ntozake seeing as though he has worked with her in the past.
“I worked with Ntozake on three different occasions,” he explained. “I didn’t do that play, of course, because there are no men in that play but she directed me and Denzel, Sam Jackson, CCH Pounder and some other actors in the New York Shakespeare production of “The Mighty Jets” back in like 1978, and I worked with her on a couple of other occasions. So, I know her work very well. Filmmakers would have a very hard time bringing it to the big screen and having it translate. I think that filmmakers would be very afraid of it. And what director would have the weight and the aptitude to go to a studio and sell it as a viable product?”
We can tell you who, Tyler Perry! But you already knew that. Were you cheating? “For Colored Girls” will feature such talented thespians as Phylicia Rashad, Thandie Newton, Janet Jackson, Kimberly Elise, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose, and Macy Gray. In the immortal words of Ben Stein … “Wooooow!” So we wondered how Lawson came across this role. He’s good, but is he that good?
“I had to read for it, and I did, and I just body slammed it. As simple as that.”
Okay, we suppose it was that simple. In the film Lawson plays Frank, the not very nice husband of Loretta Divine’s character. Though he’s serial cheater in the film Lawson says he and Divine took a liking to one another almost immediately.
“I had never met Loretta Divine, she knew of me and I knew of her,” said Lawson. “We had great respect for each other. We’ve been in this business about the same amount of time. There’s not many of us that go back to 1969 that are still in the business. They’re not working, we’re still here. AQnyway, we rode in the same car to work (to filming). I can tell you, within three blocks we fell in love. We had such affinity for each other that never stopped and it showed up on the screen. The chemistry that we had shows up on the screen. The work process was like going to Disneyland. We showed up at work because we loved what we were doing and Tyler created a place where that art could occur. He was confident in what he was doing and all those people were confident in what they were doing and what they had accomplished in their careers. It was like playing in a all-star game.”
An all-star team is a fitting analogy. But any sports enthusiast can tell you about the overwhelming egos that are involved with dealing with the best of the best.
“I think Tyler’s smart enough to bring a cast of people that he knew would bring it,” Lawson told EURweb.com. “He didn’t have to do a whole lot of directing, per say. He did, but it’s like what’re you going to tell Michael Jordan? You can tell him what play to run, but you’re not going to tell him how to run it. It’s like, basically, everybody came to the set and they knew their stuff.”
We didn’t want to rain on Lawson’s parade regarding his experiences on and off the set, but we couldn’t forget about all the early bad press from the mainstream entertainment publications. It would be easy for us to simply dismiss the Hollywood Reporter’s opinion by simply saying ‘It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand.’ But, in addition to that expression being played out, we wanted to address it with as many of those involved with “For Colored Girls” as we could.
“This is (Tyler’s) 10th film I think, so he knows a lot about directing. He’s also an actor and a producer. So, he’s accomplished at an extremely high level. That man is an easy target because of what he’s created, but that man was sleeping in his car 10 or 12 years ago. Look where he is today! I think that doesn’t come from a lack of effort or a lack of discipline.
I think he’s in a position to become a well respected director if he keeps putting himself in a position to get killed and people will continue to try to do so.”
Though I was not privileged enough to have been able to make it to a screening, several of my media brothers-in-arms have been able to attend. In general, they say the film was extremely heavy and, aside from Hill Harper’s character, each black male that appeared in the film was a walking cancer on society. One brother even went so far as to blame his current sexual dry spell with his wife on taking her to the screening, while another said the film was only slightly less depressing than “Precious.” Yikes! Lawson told our Lee Bailey that while he does understand why people might be down on the collective dispositions of the film’s black men, but he says we shouldn’t be stuck on it.
“I understand that argument, but lets look at this. We as a people cannot be naive nor limit ourselves in terms of what is seen on the screen. This is a story about women, women of color and their plight. The other side of the coin is, in order to paint black you have to paint white, or vice versa. The only reason we know it’s as black as it is, is because there’s white in it. Rembrandt taught us in painting that the shadows and the darkness leads the eye to what you want us to look at. In order to create that in the film there has to be an antagonist. In this case the men are the antagonists. There’s a lot of material out there on the other side. Why doesn’t someone go and put out a movie about men? Does that mean that black women are then shown in a bad light? If we subscribe to that mentality, we will only have tepid art, rather than art that teaches, provokes, reveals and educates. I hope that we will not be stuck in believing that every image that comes along is detrimental to the race. It’s not the job of art to satisfy every person sitting in the audience. It’s to provoke, to make people love it or hate it.”
We never imagined that Richard Lawson was so deep. His response was eloquent and well thought out and we do believe there is a great deal of truth in Mr. Lawson’s prior assertions, however many good black men (Yes, there are such things) are tired of hearing music and seeing films in which black men are the constant antagonists of black women. If art were a reflection of life, or vice versa, then black males and females appear as volatile a mix as ammonia and bleach. We’re not the bane of one another’s assistance. “The Color Purple,” “The Women of Brewster Place” and even “Precious” depict black men as sheer monstrosities of an almost otherworldly nature.
Since our beginnings in 1997 EURweb.com has been a proven friend of black media in general, black film in particular. We’re not going to start hating now. We’re all for the uplifting of our sisters in the media, and in real life. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of the black man’s already battered image. However, we must concede that this film was created in a different time and place.
“For Colored Girls” opens nationwide on Friday, November 5th. The film has actually been getting some very positive reviews, but positive reviews don’t make money so media outlets have only been focusing on the negative. We urge you to please reserve your opinion until after you see the film.