Bringing up issues of rape, incest and domestic violence is deemed “airing dirty laundry” by some. For others, it’s considered “the first step towards healing the victims and perhaps the perpetrators.”
At least that’s what those in attendance said during two spirited meetings recently at Afri-Ware, 266 Lake St.
On Dec. 5 and Nov. 21, the Oak Park store (and cultural center) hosted discussions on the award-winning, poetic book by Ntozake Shange and the new film based on it by Tyler Perry: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.
This is one of the most talked-about phenomena on black talk radio and in African-American households these days. Even girl cousins in my own family have gotten into heated debates over the issue of violence against women and how it’s graphically depicted in these two works. Yet while it features characters of color, the story is universal and should be seen and/or read by people of all races and both genders.
Shange’s sister, playwright and author Ifa Bayesa, who worked in the mid-’70s as the dramaturge, publicist and production chief of the original San Francisco production of Colored Girls, was on hand for the first Afri-Ware discussion. Bayesa wrote and directed Goodman Theatre’s The Ballad of Emmett Till.
“I’ve always been in the shadow of my big sister,” she said, “so about 10 years ago, I decided to stand toe-to-toe with Zake [Ntozake’s nickname], and either one of us would be knocked down or both of us would rise together.”
An enthusiastic circle of men, women and girls showed up — in part to hear her read from Some Sing, Some Cry, a sweeping historical epic spanning generations of the Mayfield family, from slavery to the present, which she co-authored — as well as to participate in a rich, layered discussion of Colored Girls.
“I think every black man should see this movie,” said one male attendee.
“I saw myself in this movie. It was a mirror,” a tearful woman said.
“While I would have liked a more diverse set of portrayals of black men other than just one positive male character — perhaps more like four out of eight — I understand this is not that movie,” said Afri-Ware owner Nzingha Nommo. “But what I certainly do appreciate is the affirmation of black women’s survival and courage that is, in fact, depicted quite well.”
Bayesa provided much of the story behind the film. For instance, there was an African-American female producer who first took the project to the production company and was “simultaneously invited in the door, paid a considerable sum, then invited out another door so Tyler Perry could come in and produce and direct the film,” she related. “Zake had one major trepidation: ‘I pray he doesn’t put Medea’s fat ass in my story,'” she said, referring to the rather large-bootied, recurring character, played by Perry in drag, who appears in many of his trademark films, serving as comic relief with minstrel-like mimicry.
“Medea did not appear in this film,” Bayesa noted. “Neither did celebrated singer and denigrated actress Mariah Carey, who bowed out after getting pregnant during production, to be replaced by the classically trained actress Thandie Newton. Thank God.”
At the end of the 100-minute Colored Girls discussion, Bayesa treated the audience to a 15-minute reading from Some Sing, Some Cry, set during the Harlem Renaissance. The title summed up both talks.