Watching “For Colored Girls” is an ordeal. The film is so jam-packed with tragedies that it’s difficult to catch your breath between them. From a man abusing his girlfriend to a young woman having a back alley abortion, “For Colored Girls” features a lot of heartache and pain, but it doesn’t have any sense of purpose. It sacrifices depth for despair and suffers because of it.
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The film tells the stories of a group of struggling black women. Several of the women live in an apartment building which is managed by Gilda (Phylicia Rashad), a motherly figure who looks out for her neighbors. On one side of Gilda’s apartment is an apartment that houses Crystal (Kimberly Elise), who lives with her boyfriend and their two children. Crystal’s boyfriend is a violent veteran who physically abuses her and their kids. On the other side of Gilda’s apartment lives Tangie (Thandie Newton). Tangie’s apartment is visited by male suitors throughout the day and night, to Gilda’s disapproval.
Many of the other characters are connected to these three women. Crystal’s boss Joanna (Janet Jackson) is an angry magazine editor whose marriage is suffering. Juanita (Loretta Devine), whose boyfriend lives in Gilda’s apartment building, runs a clinic for young women and seeks financial support from Joanna. Kelly (Kerry Washington) is a social worker who is investigating the abuse of Crystal’s children. Added to the mix is Alice (Whoopi Goldberg), Tangie’s religious mother who believes that the devil exists in her irresponsible daughter. These are only a few of the many characters featured in this story.
Because of its multiple storylines, the film doesn’t have any time to show its characters on a deeper level so they appear as stereotypes. Alice, for instance, is a stereotypical religious zealot who fears that the devil lives in her children and must be washed away. Joanna is the typical mean boss, who doesn’t bother to understand her employees. (Jackson plays Joanna like a younger version of Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada”). Crystal’s boyfriend is the clichéd alcoholic military veteran who has anger management issues. None of these one-dimensional characters are interesting to watch because they only exist to move the story forward.
Most of the characters take turns suffering tragedies that are often seen on soap operas and Lifetime movies of the week. The characters have to face physically abusive relationships, rape, emotional abuse, death of their loved ones, religious zealotry, and adultery amongst other things. The tragedies continue throughout the whole story and when the audience doesn’t think the characters can face any more pain, more heartache comes knocking at the door. This film is unrelenting in its depiction of violence, agony and the pain that men can cause to the women they claim to love. With few exceptions, the men are the villains while the women are the victims.
The film is based on the play (or choreopoem) “For Colored Girls who have considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf,” written by Ntozake Shange. Like a play, “For Colored Girls” features several monologues where one character goes into detail about what he or she is feeling. However, on the big screen, these monologues suspend the action, rather than adding to it.
If you expect to leave a movie theater in anything other than a state of despair or disgust, “For Colored Girls” is not for you.