The White Lens: White Reviewers' Reactions to For Colored Girls, Precious

Syndicated

A couple of days ago, I was talking to a co-worker who has a friend (young, upper middle-class and white) who is a writer at a large national newspaper in Toronto. Her friend had recently gotten a promotion, which meant that he was moved from the Arts section to News. While the promotion meant more money, he was upset because he loved what he was doing and because they opened the Arts department to “minorities.” In his opinion, she said, he felt that the newspaper wanted to promote a more “diverse” set of cultural events and laud their “minority” writers. “And the fact that one of the writers is gay and South Asian means that they kill two birds with one stone,” she joked.

I knew who she was talking about, a well-regarded journalist with several years of experience. I kept my mouth shut.

“Well, I don’t see anything wrong with that,” I remarked.

“He says that the section has gone downhill since he left. He doesn’t think that anyone is going to be interested in what they write, and the reporting is crappy."

“So what he means is that he knows what people want to read and because of their color, these writers automatically don’t?” I questioned her. She went silent. “I think that he is being very subjective with his thinking.”

Call it being a tad sensitive because of the recent reviews by non-Black (and male) reviewers who have written about For Colored Girls, the movie that was based on the legendary play by Ntozake Shange, or call it simply being sick and of subjective thinking presented as fact:If y’all don’t agree with me there is something wrong with you.

Here is an example of a movie review by a non-Black male writer from Comingsoon.net:

Maybe Perry's efforts could be taken more seriously if he made even the slightest effort to include a wider variety of races in his movie because the women's issues expressed by Shange aren't ones that only black women have to contend with; Perry could easily have brought in a Latina or Asian actress to show they have the same problems. In fact, there are only two white people in the entire movie, token background actors that you'll miss if you happen to blink during their appearances. It's fairly insulting that an Atlanta filmmaker would come to New York City to film a movie and not bother to show even an inkling of the racial diversity of the city, even in Harlem.

But that is integral to the movie, you fool! The play was written by a Black women about Black women and experiences that have happened to Black women! However, a "Black"-oriented movie is seen as segregational, and the reviewer conveniently forgets how the majority of mainstream movies are dominated by White, Anglo men and women. I highly doubt that if a Black reviewer chose to ponder about the lack of diversity in a movie or a TV show, their concerns would be taken seriously (Sex and the City, anyone?)

The reviewer not only has not read the original play, but also has not done any research as to the "theme" of not only the original play, but also the meaning behind the poetry and the characters. While this was posted online and some have dismissed online writing as the rants of people who can’t get a job in a print publication, because of the number of commenters, it’s obvious that people are not only reading the review, but they have been compelled to respond. Here is a response to the above:

I think it’s cute and quite comical actually, to read this critique of For Colored Girls. What seems to have been forgotten, which Lynn described so nicely, is that this film displays as best can be, the play. Instead, we’ve got a critic who has clearly spent more time counting the color and hues of those featured in the movie, that the messages in the film were completely missed ... Watch the movie again or read the book, but please don’t display your ignorance to the degree that you have for everyone to see without proof reading and having full understanding of the art form you’re attempting to criticize. I’m embarrassed for you.

As a working journalist and someone who writes full-time for a living, if I had written a review and been so obviously ignorant of the subject matter in my F/T gig, I’m sure that I would be would be reprimanded. In my freelance work, I would have been discredited. But yet I have seen this issue countless of times. But on the other hand, I have to wonder, isn’t this natural?

We are all subjective in our thinking. We are so wrapped up in our own lives, our own trivial (and not so trivial) issues and for the most part, we see life through our own eyes. But there is a "normalcy" of thought that is most often viewed through a white and patriarchal gaze. Their opinions are what is considered legitimate; the rest of us are highly criticized if our opinion differs.

I have read a plethora of articles by authors writing under the assumption that everyone must think and look like them, who present sweeping generalizations as facts. And I’ve concluded that in mainstream media outlets, people of color as most often seen as not capable of creating a narrative “legitimate” enough for the masses. Lived experiences are seen as too foreign, too obscure ... hell I’m being nice here ... simply not up to the standards of "normal."

Precious, the 2009 movie which won accolades (and was financially supported by Tyler Perry, director of For Colored Girls, and Oprah Winfrey) went though the same uncomfortable scrutiny:

There is no doubting the raucous, tactless energy of the film, and the brilliantly brutal performance from Mo'Nique. It isn't the transcendent ­masterpiece that some admirers would have you believe: more like a black-comic nightmare that isn't exactly ­supposed to be funny. It's certainly ­arresting, though.

A year later on one of the local radio stations in Toronto, the morning radio hosts still use Precious actor Gabourey Sidibe as a butt of their jokes, calling her “fat, Black and ugly.” Despite sending in emails to complain, the jokes continue, as the radio hosts (and the owners of the station for that matter) seem not to think that anyone who doesn’t look like them, listen to the station. Or perhaps they simply do not care. But isn’t a portion of my tax-paying dollars paying for that ‘ish?

Whenever a dramatic film is released in which the majority of characters are Black, or if the story is centered on themes that are found prevalent (or assumed to be prevalent) within Black communities, Black folks get nervous -- especially about any film that involves Tyler Perry. While Perry is a talented, business-savvy man, I find his movies incredibly one-dimensional and bougie, and as an Agnostic, I think they're too much about religion and spirituality -- as though all Black folks need to get right with God or they ain’t right. But that’s me.

Film reviewers -- despite their hue -- need to understand that a
"Black" film (a drama) is more than just a film. Most often, it is incredibly sensitive to what is currently -- or historically -- gone on in Black communities. I’m not saying that it should not be critiqued or that the director should get a "ghetto pass," but, for once, they need to stop trying to looking at the lives and experience of people who do not look like them, through their eyes. There are other experiences that people have ... and just because you cannot relate, doesn’t mean that they are not as important.

This, dear reviewer from Comingsoon.com, is what For Colored Girls is about. From Invisible Cinema.com:

The meaning of "Colored Girls" is to give hope and good cheer, to let the Black women know that everything we need in this life, and any other life, is already inside of us. To let us know that as long as we support one another is sisterhood, in creativity, in our awesome womaness, it doesn't matter what a man does, or a whole race, or the whole world. We have to, and can, support and hold each other up.

Additional Reads:

How Will Reviews For 'For Colored Girls' Impact Box Office? -- The Atlanta Post

Where is the White Julia Roberts? -- Racialicious

For Colored Girls, Machete, Billy Jack: Mainstream Movies as Progressive Forces --Hollywood Progressive (by a white dude who gets it)

Portrait of a Siddity Negro Artist As Tyler Perry -- For Harriet

Photo Credit: Lionsgate.

Contributing Editor - Race, Ethnicity & Culture

Blog: Writing is Fighting: www.lainad.typepad.com

Writer: Hellbound

Writer: Exclaim! Canada

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