Single-Minded: Me, My Mother and 'For Colored Girls'

Like mother, like daughter? Not always. Helena Andrews and her mother don't exactly agree on Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls.


My mother just called Tyler Perry "brilliant." This is the same woman who once told me that Perry's TBS sitcom House of Payne was "buffcoonery" -- some monstrous hybrid of "buffoon" and "coonery." Last summer I took her to see Why Did I Get Married Too? Her response? "I'm glad you paid." She doesn't mince words, my mom.

And according to her, For Colored Girls, which premiered last week, was a triumph. It was a cinematic feat to be celebrated. I almost walked out, like, twice. But this lady, my mother, the first feminist I ever knew, the woman who introduced me to poetry when I was a baby? She loved Perry's adaptation of Ntzoake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Go figure.

For me, that book, which I found on her shelf when I was a kid, is to little brown girls what Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is to little white girls. I'm fiercely protective of it. A little bit snobbish about it. And maybe that's ridiculous. Loosening my grip -- even on a loose interpretation that I still think should've been way better -- might be necessary. Because sharing is caring, right? So I had a conversation with my mother -- who is a poet (the fact that she's unpublished is the world's problem) and who works with victims of domestic violence -- about the movie that has black women either up in arms or holding hands in a sister circle.

Me: All right, woman. How did you feel about For Colored Girls? Give me your initial reaction.

Mom: My main reaction is that women need to bring their men. They need to sit at the table together. They need to see the hurt and the pain. I'm really trying to decide if I'm going to take my teen girls [Me: From the literacy program she runs] to see it. It's heavy, but I need to have them see it. If they can watch all this vampire [expletive], then they can see this.

Me: So you liked it? You thought Tyler did a good job translating Shange's work?

Mom: Tyler Perry is brilliant. He's brilliant. The way he was able to adapt the original material into the movie and bring it up-to-date was amazing. AIDS? That wasn't part of the original work. He brought that in and was able to take it in. We really have to let go of our literary expertise and absorb this piece in its place and time. Tyler had to make it digestible in order for it to work. I give that to him.

Me: Really? But what about the art?! What about taking something so classic and ruining it -- dumbing it down, even?

Mom: Didn't Alice Walker think the same thing about The Color Purple?

Me: I don't think so. The Color Purple was a good movie!