Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem ends with a song:
all of the ladies repeat to them-
selves softly the lines ‘i found god
in myself & i loved her.’ It soon
becomes a song of joy, started by
the lady in blue. The ladies sing
first to each other, then gradually
to the audience. After the song
peaks the ladies enter into a closed
This scene has been haunting me since I watched Tyler Perry’s film adaptation. As the film ends, Perry’s women protagonists stand shoulder-to-shoulder, arms entwined across bodies, on a rooftop, overlooking an undefined scene. In Perry’s adaptation, there can be no tight circles.
In fact, Perry’s film continually interrupts women’s circles. The narrative of rape, told in the choreopoem by the lady in red, the lady in blue, and the lady in purple, becomes, in the film, a story told by a rape victim—Perry loves his women victims—to a policeman, a sympathetic Hill Harper.
Hill Harper, the overly-reassuring figure of the law constantly hovers around women’s actions and interactions, reminding us how and where desire should be directed—never toward other women. He is the law of hetero-desire and the law as authority—the figure who “knows.” I wonder about this law figure who knows too much—so much that women need not narrate their stories to each other.
The film adaptation, in good Tyler Perry fashion, revels in confession and catharsis, but never hints at moments of joy, never reaches for the utopian promise that Shange’s play suggests.
The film inhabits a tedious realism—realism, not reality, because it is genre-bound—that can never split open or yield to allow other imaginations to emerge. Perry preaches healing, but can never see around the injury-healing cycle to something else—to the tight circle of women united in the joy of being with each other.
His adaptation of the choreopoem is “missin something,” “something so important,” “somethin promised”—“a layin on of hands.”
Where Shange’s choreopoem closes with the promise of “rainbows,” Perry’s film closes with the promise of dawn. “Truth comes in the morning,” for Perry. The husband on the DL must confess he likes having sex with men. The loving landlady must confess she used to be promiscuous. The battered girlfriend must confess that she failed to take responsibility.
And what is so wonderful in the choreopoem, that the narratives are by and about the various ladies, extensions into history and geography, personal and impersonal, sites for sympathy and identification, calls for activism and coalition, much of this collapses, or is rendered absent.
Perhaps this is what I’m reaching for: the rhetoric of personal responsibility combines with historical injury to produce women who embody trauma—so often, too often for my taste, Perry’s women look scared and horrified. Or angry about being scared and horrified.
Shange’s poem offers rainbows. Perry can only see the rain clearing away, even while the skies remain cloudy.
I left the film missing the song at the end—missing the promises of rainbows.