Oaklanders Respond to “FOR COLORED GIRLS”

Sandra Varner’s Celebrity Profiles Your browser may not support display of this image. Your browser may not support display of this image. Left, Richard Lawson is “Frank” in Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” Right, Loretta Devine as “Juanita” and Lawson in scene from “For Colored Girls” Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting an advance showing of the new Tyler Perry movie, FOR COLORED GIRLS, based on the award winning play from Bay Area noted author, Ntozake Shange, taken from her book of choreopoems titled, “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf.” In 1974, Shange’s “Colored Girls” made its stage debut, combining poetry, dance and music, and most significantly, placing the black female experience center stage.  In lyrical, honest, angry, funny and tender language, this heralded work evoked the feelings woven into the fabric of black female life in America. Within two years, the play became a Broadway sensation, won an Obie and Tony Award, and would eventually be produced in regional theaters throughout the country. Now, some 36 years later, filmmaker Perry’s adaptation weaves together the stories of nine different women – Jo, Tangie, Crystal, Gilda, Kelly, Juanita, Yasmine, Nyla and Alice – as they move into and out of one another’s existences; some are well known to one another, others are as yet strangers.  Crises, heartbreaks and crimes will ultimately bring these nine women fully into the same orbit where they will find commonality and understanding. Each will speak her truth as never before.  And, each will know that she is complete as a human being, glorious and divine in all her colors. The capacity audience at the Regal Jack London Square Cinema in Oakland, CA came away from the screening feeling empowered, well represented, emotionally charged and appreciative of Perry’s effort, many calling it his best film. Testament to such is Vashone Huff, Chief Protocol Officer, City of Oakland, commenting, “Tyler’s Perry’s provocative adaptation of Shange’s For Colored Girls resonated with the very essence of the vibrancy, evolution and struggle of the black woman. I was overwhelmed as each character’s words and responses to life situations; I could ‘amen.’  It made me proud of my own personal evolution as a colored girl…Oscar worthy performances.” Another enthusiast, Jada Roseman described the film thusly, “…amazing, breathtaking, unexpected, and exciting. This film hit home on so many different levels at some point in everyone’s life.” Richard Lawson who is cast as Franklin in this film has Oakland roots.  I sat with him to discuss FOR COLORED GIRLS and his encounters with black women – Sandra Varner (Talk2SV): Some would say this play is the seminal work of Ntozake Shange, chiefly because it is carried over from the 70’s to present day with multiple messages for African American women, one being how we are reflected in this culture. As part of this film adaptation, what is your interpretation of this work and the meaning of your placement within it? Richard Lawson: Well, in 1975, I met Ntozake and we worked together; she directed me, Denzel (Washington), Sam Jackson, CCH Pounder and Bill Cobb in ‘The Mighty Gents.’ I did several of her other pieces: ‘Three for a Full Moon,’ ‘Focus,’ so I’ve worked with her on a number of occasions and she’s a friend. This piece resonates today because I think it’s a universal experience, it’s not just an African American woman’s experience.  It is a woman’s experience in terms of dealing with relationships and identity and feeling good about oneself and the men.  I’ve even heard some rumblings in terms of people not liking the image of black men in the film; I think it’s important to understand that in order to really paint light, you have to paint dark so the vision that we get from the woman’s experience doesn’t exist unless the dark side is revealed. I think what’s also important is for us to understand that we cannot be sensitive about exposing the sides of ourselves that may not necessarily be the prettiest.  We have to be willing to look at the warts so that we can grow as a people, so we have a greater understanding of how we can recognize when relationships like that exist.  If you’re in the middle of a relationship, it’s kind of hard to see yourself because your nose is right on the page.  But you can recognize it in other people that you love.  What can you do about it? You can recognize abuse, you can recognize lack of communication, infidelity…even though my character, Frank, is considered to be infidel, he’s not really, he’s not married. Talk2SV: Oh, so these are just other women in his life? Lawson: This man had his own issues you know what I mean. We could –if the film was long enough and we were to do the epic film– have a chance to get into the lives of men in terms of, ‘why is he like that?’ He’s really a good guy, but why can’t he maintain a relationship or be honest or stay connected. He has his own issues so you can get into the issues of this man; he is not just an evil person.  None of the men [in the film are] are evil.  They are a product of the sum parts of their upbringing and their lives need examination as well.  Now, the result of that is this, someone’s life is ruined because of it.  You know, people don’t grow up in this world with the intention of being bad and evil, it occurs for a number of reasons…out of some need or some other reasons, so that’s my take on that. I’m glad to see this thing finally come to the screen. Talk2SV: It is a hard story to tell as well as to “take in” and as you’ve said, there have been rumblings of dark nature of this film; further, some have asked, “why is Tyler (Perry) doing it and so forth?” Whatever side you stand on, the reality is getting this story told was a remarkable feat. Talk about your experience working with Tyler Perry. Lawson: It was an amazing experience.  First of all, I knew that I was going to be working with thoroughbreds: everyone in this film has had some history in terms of making films, doing stage… they are accomplished professionals.  All of us can look at any one of our resumes and we can see that we had a body of work so to show up on the set and to know that you’re going to be with people who can really bring it was amazing.  Actually, all of my scenes were with Loretta, but Loretta and I had never really met. Talk2SV: Really, your paths had never crossed. Lawson: No, we knew of each other, we had an appreciation and respect for each other but we had never met.  I met her for the first time when I came downstairs to get into the car to go to the set for the first day of filming.  She was downstairs and we rode in the same car; within three blocks of meeting her, we both fell in love.  Just to have a tremendous appreciation and a wonderful chemistry [between us] we were like two kids on that set.  I think it affected the people that were around us because they saw two professionals having fun at what they do and we just had a blast working together. There is still much more from Richard Lawson and the cast of Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” at www.Talk2SV.com. Oaklanders Respond to “FOR COLORED GIRLS” Sandra Varner’s Celebrity Profiles Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting an advance showing of the new Tyler Perry movie, “FOR COLORED GIRLS,” based on the award winning play from Bay Area noted author, Ntozake Shange, taken from her book of choreopoems titled, “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf.” In 1974, Shange’s “Colored Girls” made its stage debut, combining poetry, dance and music, and most significantly, placing the black female experience center stage.  In lyrical, honest, angry, funny and tender language, this heralded work evoked the feelings woven into the fabric of black female life in America. Within two years, the play became a Broadway sensation, won an Obie and Tony Award, and would eventually be produced in regional theaters throughout the country. Now, some 36 years later, Perry’s film adaptation constructs the stories of nine different women – Jo, Tangie, Crystal, Gilda, Kelly, Juanita, Yasmine, Nyla and Alice – as they move into and out of one another’s existences; some are well known to one another, others are strangers.  Crises, heartbreaks and crimes will ultimately bring these nine women fully into the same orbit where they will find commonality and understanding. The capacity audience at the Regal Jack London Square Cinema in Oakland, CA came away from the screening feeling empowered, well represented, emotionally charged and appreciative of Perry’s effort, many calling it his best film. Testament to such is Vashone Huff, Chief Protocol Officer, City of Oakland, commenting, “Tyler’s Perry’s provocative adaptation of Shange’s ‘For Colored Girls’ resonated with the very essence of the vibrancy, evolution and struggle of the black woman. I was overwhelmed as each character’s words and responses to life situations; I could ‘amen.’  It made me proud of my own personal evolution as a colored girl…Oscar worthy performances.” Another enthusiast, Jada Roseman described the film thusly, “…amazing, breathtaking, unexpected, and exciting. This film hit home on so many different levels at some point in everyone’s life.” Richard Lawson who is cast as Franklin in this film has Oakland roots.  I sat with him to discuss “COLORED GIRLS” and his encounters with black women – Read the Richard Lawson interview at www.postnewsgroup.com and at www.Talk2SV.com where you will find other cast interviews.
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