"Beautiful black brown lady didn't mean to be rough with you.
Life it's been rough enough. I'm sorry baby...
How do broken people love each other?
Best they know how... in fragments."
I have had a great internal debate about how I should comment or if I should comment on the recently released film For Colored Girls. I saw the movie before a two-show performance day last Saturday of my play Through the Night currently running at the Union Square Theatre. The quote above and those throughout this article are excerpted from the play. I literally broke down in tears in front of my producer Daryl Roth after the matinee. I was enraged and deeply saddened after seeing the film. There are immensely talented actresses and actors in the movie. Some are personal friends. Two in fact have publicly named themselves as Ambassadors for my play Through the Night -- Phylicia Rashad and Hill Harper. My deepest feelings actually have nothing to do with any of their dynamic performances. My question is: where do we go beyond the pain?
I am not a black woman. I would not dare rob them of their right to shout their stories from the rooftops. My own mother fought like hell through a racist south of the 60's, relationships where she was physically and emotionally abused, even having one of her children taken from her by her mate as she attempted to escape to safety. My own father abandoned us to heroin addiction and abuse. In the midst of all this and more, she stands as one of the strongest, most loving, powerful human beings I have every encountered. She has raised me and loved me through moments of personal insecurity, self-discovery and doubt. Today I am proud to say I am black man raised by a dynamic black woman.
"Dance Mama Dance,
Like your nightmare is ending,
Like joy is beginning,
Like life is not through with you yet."
My play Through the Night began as a response to the play For Colored Girls from a black man's perspective. As I developed the play, it moved beyond just a response to being a more thorough examination of the inner landscape of the black male's heart and mind. Still direct responses to the play For Colored Girls remain. In particular, at the end of Through the Night, a black father who has made some big mistakes ultimately holds his newborn high in the air and says to God,
"You gave me this gift and I give him back to You,
I dedicate my life to being a man my son will be proud of,
Just show me what to do..."
This is a direct response to an image from the play For Colored Girls that is also in Tyler Perry's adaptation that deeply disturbs me. A black man, a war vet, takes his two beautiful children, holds them out the window and drops them. Such an atrocity towards children must be handled with immense delicacy. In a play, where the sensitivity of an actresses' portrayal and Notazke Shange's words can guide us to this place in our own mind's eye, it is challenging, but almost bearable. To see that image in 2010 portrayed on screen for me was unbearable. What is the usefulness? What is the point? Why is this considered dramatic or interesting? Why this fascination, celebration of a repetition of our pain, in particular black pain? Our children are being dropped every day but when are we going to start to explore the real reasons why that is happening and begin to hold up models and images of how we can lift our children up?
And if we really want to explore the pain -- can we go to the root? Not as excuse making, but so some real healing can take place? What is the root of the breakdown of our families? In Through the Night a black mother fighting for her dyslexic son speaks about the challenges of being a single mother:
"Want to know why I'm so angry? It's been bubbling in my DNA for centuries, every since they stole my man from me and he been having trouble finding his way home ever since."
The shackles of slavery that once chained our bodies are still enslaving the hearts and minds of our families. Our children are being dropped everyday by economic disparities, failing educational systems, a lack of access to quality healthcare, and the absence of safe homes.
Sure there are some black men who rape women, cheat on them, give them STDs and so do some men of every race. But to continue to perpetuate these images without a commitment to a larger conversation is deadly to black men, black children, and even black women. Moreover, it is deadly to our entire society because we are truly all in this together.
In Through the Night I am showing a community a black men being fathers and mentors, sometimes hurting, but ultimately loving the women in their lives. They make mistakes, have flaws, but ultimately they are fighting to overcome. Our healing can be dramatic. It must be because...
"Our children are watching,
And when they see us crumbling it gives them reason not to build,
When they see us dying reason not live,
Our children are watching."
What's the end game? Our children must be protected. Our families must heal. Explorations of our pain are only useful as a pathway to our healing...
"Black women have often loved black men more than we have loved ourselves..."
Why? Because they know there are roots to our brokenness that are much deeper than our actions too often display. They know there are black men fighting to beat the odds, the statistics and succeeding everyday. And they know that even though too often our behaviors may belie it, black men do love black women. We must do better and I am a firm believer that this must be done through images that remind us of our greatest possibility.
"Run Black Man Run,
Run to your children hold them tight,
Help them make it Through the Night
Be more think you can,
Be a black man take a stand,
And when you make it through reach back
And help another black man do what we all know must me done,
Run Black Man Run..."
The film has people talking and I am grateful for that. We have been dropped, all of us, now let's be about the hard work of lifting each other up.