In Precious, the African-American lesbian couple who give the heroine a glimpse of domestic happiness have a poster for Ntozake Shange’s “choreopoem” For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. It was such a clichéd accessory that I rolled my eyes, but Tyler Perry—who lent his name to Precious as an executive producer—must have licked his lips. He has taken Shange’s landmark poem cycle for seven African-American actresses, cut it up, and sewn its bloody entrails into a tawdry, masochistic soap opera that exponentially ups the Precious ante.
For Colored Girls is so shamelessly terrible it would make a great midnight hoot-fest, if you had the stomach to laugh at Shange or some of the best (and most underused) actresses of their generation: Kimberly Elise, Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, and, as a cartoon sexpot, Thandie Newton, who gets by on her killer timing. At various mundane junctures, each woman begins to speak high-flown verse while other characters gaze on like extras in Oklahoma! They are all victimized by men—figures left abstract onstage but here embodied by one stereotypical dog after another. The women are plenty stereotyped, too, with Janet Jackson getting the worst of it as an Anna Wintour–like magazine diva who doesn’t know that her assistant (Elise) is being abused by an alcoholic Iraq-vet husband. The most ludicrous sequence is a rape that’s crosscut with an abortion (by a chain-smoking, vodka-swilling back-alley abortionist) and a scene at the opera in which Jackson realizes her husband is gay. Grand opera: what a touch. The cameras are shoved in the actresses’ faces to catch their inevitable teardrops, which for Tyler are his climaxes—the money shots.