By Richard Prince, Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education
LOS ANGELES - The hatin' on Tyler Perry's film "For Colored Girls" was so intense that Ronda Racha Penrice, writing on theGrio.com, had to find solace in the opening weekend's box office take:
"Negative reviews from respected film critics like The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt, who proclaimed Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls . . . 'this train wreck of a movie' didn't keep black female filmgoers away. Although Friday night's box office numbers suggested that 'For Colored Girls' was on pace to gross $28 million, its actual weekend box office receipts of $20.1 million are more than respectable," Penrice wrote.
"In an age when most black films must fight to get just a thousand screens, 'For Colored Girls,' according to BoxOfficeMojo, played on nearly 2,900 screens in 2,127 theaters, averaging a healthy $9,450" per screen. "Those numbers may mean little to you but, in Hollywood, they are huge. With a reported total production budget of $21 million, a $20.1 million opening means that 'For Colored Girls' will be profitable. Hopefully, that also means that more black directors besides Tyler Perry will get to make films starring black people."
Then she got to the hatin'.
"Mainstream reviews of the film have been laced with a viciousness rarely seen when evaluating the work of other filmmakers. ' "For Colored Girls" is so shamelessly terrible it would make a great midnight hoot-fest, if you had the stomach to laugh at Shange or some of the best (and most underused) actresses of their generation: Kimberly Elise, Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, and, as a cartoon sexpot, Thandie Newton, who gets by on her killer timing,' writes New York Magazine's David Edelstein. The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris, who is African-American, began his review with 'Tyler Perry is no stranger to kitchen-sink melodrama. But "For Colored Girls" is the kitchen sink, the washing machine, the curling iron, the sofa, and the ironing board.' "
"For Colored Girls," based on Ntozake Shange's 1975 "choreopoem" that became a classic, was the cultural event of the weekend for much of black America.
And there were in fact a few kind words.
Jenice Armstrong wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News, " 'For Colored Girls,' inspired by Ntozake Shange's 1975 poetic play, isn't the movie to see if you're feeling fragile. But if you're in a healthy place, definitely go. Just take Kleenex and a girlfriend because you're going to want to talk it out afterward. Phylicia Rashad, Loretta Devine, Elise and Thandie Newton tear the screen up. Elise, in particular, puts on an Oscar-worthy performance in her role as a battered mother who goes to hell and back after witnessing the unthinkable. My favorite line comes near the end, when Elise's character declares, 'I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely.' What a lesson there is in that."
But the headline on Courtland Milloy's column Monday in the Washington Post was, "For black men who have considered homicide after watching another Tyler Perry movie."
And Teresa Wiltz wrote on theRoot.com, "It's an exceedingly hard slog, 2 hours and 14 minutes of overwrought melodrama, bleaker than bleak, and unleavened by humor or wit."
Keli Goff, writing on theLoop21.com, said that considering all that she has read about the film, she's reached her own conclusion. "I simply remain as on the fence about seeing 'For Colored Girls' as I’ve been on the fence about other recent films with similarly negative reviews," she said.
"And I’ve ultimately decided to wait to see those on Netflix. (For the record, I read the somewhat positive review in the New York Times, one of the film’s few, but the critic, Manohla Dargis, lost credibility points with me the moment she declared that part of Mr. Perry’s baggage is that 'Black people love him and white people don’t get him.' Um, this black person would like you to try again Ms. Dargis.)"