For Coloured Girls (2010)

‘For Coloured Girls’ is one of the few ‘big budget’ Hollywood films inclusive of an all female black cast; this is considered a breakthrough despite being released in 2010. The film is an adaption of Nzotake Shange’s play 1976, ‘For Coloured Girls who considered suicide when the rainbow was enuf’.

The clip opens Crystal’s dialogue with, ‘I ask myself, how I could let that happen?’; she touches her face affectionately in an extreme close-up, her emotional words enhanced by non-diegetic violins. As she speaks, Perry uses depth-of-field to enrich her performance. This pulls the audience close to Crystal’s face; the background becomes blurred. In this extreme-close-up, we see Crystal liberated from who she was; she is now wearing a head-wrap and embracing self-love by accessorizing with earrings. The background contains faded multi-coloured lights; this inter-textuality reminds us of the different colors each woman represents in Shange’s original play and they fade to show how these women are no longer tropes. As Crystal pauses, the camera cuts three times to other women, these all represent the main stereotypes of black women in film: the Jezebel (Tangie), the Mammy (Gilda) and the Matriarch (Jo). Additionally, in this scene Perry plays with space in the frames. The proximity of women and the proximity of the audience are significant to the message being conveyed. These women are gathered in a circle, the frame gives the audience an intimate look into their features, expressions and eyes. Black women are so often made into caricatures, yet here they are presented to us with vulnerability, beauty and femininity, not grotesque figures of fantasy or imagination.

Before they respond to Crystal, she continues to recite the choreo-poem. She uses two tripartites: ‘Strong, Cool, Moving’ and ‘Whole, Sense, Pure’, her pausing between each word emphasises the black woman as complete and powerful. In addition to this, Crystal repeats, ‘Me’, affirming the introspective nature of her dialogue. She identifies herself as ‘missing something’ as if she were asleep and now she’s awake. In her awareness, she provokes other women to speak up and become free. Each trope begins to oppose what they have been characterized as: the Jezebel reveals she is disgusted by her sexuality; the Mammy reveals she finds holiness not only in her womb but her self; the Matriarch recognizes she was missing a ‘promise’, something ‘free’. This demonstrates that each trope can be broken to reveal the depth of the black woman behind the mask society forces her to wear.

As a result, ‘a laying on of hands’ becomes the connecting phrase between each woman. Women interpret the ‘hands’ as what made them feel free. They change to ‘bodies’, ‘womb’, ‘and mother’; each trope expresses what they thought they identified with. This becomes a powerful dismantling of the black female image, whereby Perry examines what each woman characterizes and purposefully seeks to open and revert these attributes. The black woman is carelessly defined by one personality aspect; most often it is promiscuity, anger or servitude; yet she is far more than this. By collecting these stereotypes, Perry demonstrates these are images that negate the black woman into an object. Her objectification demoralizes and damages her, as portrayed by the trauma these characters experience in the film. She seeks to flee from the entrapment of objectified image that has denied her of self-love, as exemplified in the scene.

To summarize, this extract portrays black women in positions of vulnerability, but through this, they find freedom and self-love. The power of black womanhood reveals itself by each character unifying oneself, becoming whole within to gain validation. There is an atmosphere of sisterhood leaving us with a very clear message that women must unite, that we all provoke freedom from each-other as we open our voices and hearts sincerely, to be vulnerable yet brave in front of others. Crystal represents the strength black women contain inside, a strength that not only builds up others, but changes identity; an identity that has been manipulated by negativity and entrapment; she breaks free and carries her sisters along with her. Moreover, this is exactly why black women must emancipate themselves from the world that tries to enslave them.

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