I hope everyone is using this evening to be productive and meet with your groups. I look forward to the presentations. I’ve gotten quite a few questions but have fun and just ensure you accomplish the goal of the assignment which is listed in the syllabus.
On a second note, I’ve added “For Colored Girls…” to list of movies to complete your MH paper on. Lots of characters to choose from. Please see excerpt below for history on this wonderful movie.
Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls: Creating Her Own Rainbows
When seven African-American women whirled onto a Broadway stage in 1976 to perform Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls, they met with mixed reviews. The author’s intent was to use theatricality as a vehicle for expressing the minority female experience in American society; however, scholars often complain that the play promotes negative stereotypes of black men. On one hand, critics praise the playwright for eloquently expressing the soul of minority women and bringing voice to a sector of society that had been silenced. On the other hand; however, many intellectuals argue that for colored girls is a male-bashing work of literature that ignores the positive contribution men give to the female experience. Neal Lester reiterates this view by suggesting that “Shange’s general presentation of males throughout the play leaves audience members seeing for colored girls as little more than another black feminist’s ruthless and unjustified attack on all black men” (319).
Although I agree that Shange’s drama exemplifies the views of third wave feminists, I cannot accept the overall conclusion that the play is an attack on black men. My view is that Ntozake Shange successfully utilizes the key dramatic elements of action, character, theme and performance to transform the personal plight of the minority female into a universally relatable experience. The dramatic elements of this play do not perpetuate negative male stereotypes; instead, they celebrate the joys of sisterhood and femininity.
The fluid action of for colored girls is expressed seamlessly as the author weaves together the fragments of womanhood. Shange has repeatedly expressed her disenchantment with the patriarchal norms associated with American theater; therefore, she abandoned standard plot structure and presented for colored girls as a series of poems (Shange, Three Pieces). Her choice to present for colored girls in poetic verse is reminiscent of both, the rhythmic dynamics of the female aesthetic and the soulful roots of black culture. Although the plot does not possess the rise and fall characteristics of the dramatic arc, it does present a series of universal dilemmas that are eventually resolved by play’s end. The resolution is evident in the final poem, “a layin on of hands” when each woman releases the psychological anguish experienced as a result of missing the best parts of herself. The author’s decision to resolve the universal issue of gender inequality by asserting that women love themselves iterates her desire to promote female individuation.
Shange’s decision to combine music, poetry and dance engendered the choreopoem, a multifaceted theatrical device that has garnered praise from critics and scholars alike. Shange also uses the communal bonding that results from the performance of dance to shatter generic boundaries (Waxman 93). According to Barbara Frey Waxman, the dance aspect of for colored girls possesses the reverence of a “cathartic religious ritual that helps women shake off despair and isolation by enabling them to communicate more effectively with each other, with audiences, and with their private selves” (100). In other words, the performance of Shange’s choreopoem evokes the strength of sisterhood and togetherness that enables minority women to reconcile themselves.
In the foreword of for colored girls, Shange recalls dance as a process that allowed her to move her “unconscious knowledge of being in a colored woman’s body to [her] known everydayness” (xi). The impact of this combination is fully realized when audiences experience the performance of the poem “sechita”, in “which a dance hall girl is perceived as a deity, as slut, as innocent & knowing” (Shange x). This composition can best be described as a type of “thinking through the body” (Waxman 98) in which two women expose mighty emotions through expressive movement. Audiences are intrigued as the lady in green acts out Sechita’s trials and triumphs through the execution of masterfully seductive choreography. She is superbly accompanied by the lady in purple who recites poetic verse to the rhythm of an invisible jazz riff. This poem is a shining example of Shange’s propensity to make words dance with the same fervor as the physical body. Shange’s decision to fuse the performable aesthetics of dance with poetry enables for colored girls to communicate the joys of femininity with an air of authenticity.
When discussing the characters in Shange’s play, the most common assumption is that the term “colored girls” refers to black women. The author discredits this idea in her foreword by insisting that she was concerned with the plight of all oppressed minority women. The ensemble is reminiscent of the traditional Greek chorus; however, Ntozake makes a bold statement by transforming the chorus- that was historically exclusive of women-into a gynocentric entity. The visual characters of the play represent the voices of women who are often silenced by societal circumstance. One scholar effectively describes them as “female protagonists [who] are in quest of themselves” (Waxman 93). Ntozake depicts each character as a “lady” wearing a color to personify the lens from which minority women are viewed, thus epitomizing the perplexing circumstance of the double minority. By giving voice to these characters, Shange transforms them from women of color to transcendent vessels of truth.
Often misunderstood, the men in Shange’s play make significant contributions to the overall unity of the text. Through the illustration of Beau Willie Brown the author analyzes the victimization of the African-American male. In an attempt to describe Beau’s predicament, the lady in red tells audiences that “there waz no air” (Shange 55). Many African-American men can identify with the notion that Beau’s inability to breathe is a direct result of societal pressure. In fact, even the scholars who detest Shange’s male images will admit that “black women bear… the brunt of black male frustration and suppressed rage” (Bell 171).
Though many critics continue to beat the dead “male-bashing” horse, other intellectuals acknowledge that Shange “dealt with her male characters sentimentally” (Lester 320). In response to the scholars who have continued to criticize Shange’s male characters for being flat and underdeveloped, her literary supporters often remind audiences that for colored girls is not a play about the male experience. Furthermore, such claims ignore the presence of likeable male figures in the poems “graduation nite” and “toussaint”. To combat the perceived under development of her male characters, Shange passionately proclaims that, “her play has nothing to do with [men]” she insists that “it is all about women!” (Gavin 194).
Few can deny the fact that the premise of for colored girls reflects the dilemma that minority women experience as a result of double jeopardy[i]. In writing this play, Shange ultimately sought to articulate the complexities associated with enduring women’s oppression, while simultaneously reconciling one’s minority status. The lady in yellow explains this predicament when she states that “being black and being a woman is a metaphysical dilemma that [we have] yet to conquer” (Shange 45). Many of the concepts expressed in for colored girls exemplify the feelings of inadequacy that are often associated with the female minority experience. The women express their desire to be appreciated by affirming that “[their] love is too sanctified to have thrown back on [their] face[s]” (Shange 46). The universal themes in the play such as rape, abortion, abuse, and infidelity are problems encountered by women of all races (Gavin 195). The rainbow is one of the most prevalent symbols of the play, indicating the author’s desire to promote gender unity across racial barriers.
Throughout the play, the author craftily pieces together verses that resonate with themes of self-actualization, independence, dignity and love. She is also concerned with combating feminine vulnerability by encouraging unity amongst women. This is evidenced by the poem entitled “pyramid” in which three women endure the pain of sharing an unfaithful lover. At poem’s end, each woman acknowledges her ability to heal the other by embracing the wealth of love that stands between them (Shange 42). Though critics often disagree about the supposed controversial themes in the play, it seems evident that the ideas presented in for colored girls function as healing balms for women. The thematic elements of this play do not diminish the role of male companionship, they do however, emphasize the importance of sisterhood.
It should suffice to say that this play was not created to attack the ego of the minority male. Ultimately, as educated individuals, we should be concerned with the reasons a play that exists solely for the empowerment of women is consistently attacked by the academic community. Why do some people believe that independent women with high self-esteem are a direct threat to masculinity? Why is there such a backlash when women of color demand to be seen, heard, respected and celebrated? The dramatic elements of for colored girls encourage women’s empowerment, a troubling fact for those who equate the act of giving power to women with taking power from men. Calvin Hernton keenly observes this double-standard when he asserts that “when black male writers hang together to write about…the brotherhood of black men, this is viewed as fitting by the men” ; however, “when black women write about …their struggle for self-esteem, black men brand the women ‘feminist-bitches’”(141).
It follows then, that oppressive forces would attempt to misconstrue, mislabel, and falsely identify the intentions of such a play. Shange’s expression of dance, poetry, and femaleness birthed a new life-form into the theatrical arts despite some critics’ best efforts to rain on her parade. When the stage darkened on the final Broadway performance of for colored girls, millions of socially oppressed women danced out of the darkness to start a third wave feminist movement that was long over due. Ntozake Shange has craftily utilized the key dramatic elements of action, character, theme and performance to create a profound theatrical work that has empowered compromised women to create their own rainbows.
- Reference to the sociological term that describes the state of belonging to two minority groups simultaneously.
Bell, Derick. “The Debate in Context.” Byrd, Rudoolph and Beverly Sheftall. Traps: African American Men on Gender and Sexuality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. 168-200. Print.
Gavin, Christy. African American Women Playwrights : AResearch Guide<span>.</span> New York: Garland Publishers, 1999. Print.
Hernton, Calvin. “The Sexual Mountain and Black Women Writers.” Black American Literature Forum 1984: 139-145. JSTOR. Web. 15 Nov. 2009.
Lester, Neal. “Shange’s Men: For Colored Girls Revisited, and Movement Beyond .” African American Review July 1992: 319-328. JSTOR. Web. 15 Nov. 2009.
Shange, Ntozake. for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf<span>.</span> New York: Scribner Poetry, 1975. Print.
—. Three Pieces<span>.</span> St.Martin: Griffin, 1980. Print.
Waxman, Barbara Frey. “Dancing out of Form, Dancing into Self: Genre and Metaphor in Marshall, Shange, and Walker .” MELUS August 1994: 91-106. JSTOR. Web. 15 Nov. 2009.