For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf is her signature work, but don't box Ntozake Shange into a corner. At 62, the fiery poet and playwright continues to wield her feminist sword of truth for generations of readers who have grown to love the Brooklyn author. Her poetry is a living breathing thing -- ever evolving like a mist in the canyons of our minds.
Die-hard fans of For Colored Girls may have gasped when word leaked that director Tyler Perry -- whose wild caricature of Madea has earned him both accolades and scorn -- planned to translate Shange's most celebrated work into a major motion picture. Admittedly, I was among those very nervous about this project. For Colored Girls is nothing to be toyed with; I consider it sacred poetry -- an homage to so many African-American girls and women who find themselves suffocating through life's storms to the point where suicide seems like a sweet relief.
As a television journalist, I frequently reflect upon Shange's epic work when I report stories like 30-year-old Leisa Jones from Staten Island. On July 22, 2010, police in New York City ruled that she slit the throats of her 14-year-old son, CJ, as well as her 10-year-old daughter, Brittany, and 7-year-old Melonie. After that horrific act, she set her apartment ablaze at 302 Nicholas Avenue on Staten Island -- and her toddler son, Jermaine, died of smoke inhalation. Leisa Jones saw murder/suicide as a viable option not only for herself, but for her four precious children. This is in large part what Ntozake Shange was talking about in her groundbreaking work. Shange foresaw the "Leisa Jones" of the world more than thirty years ago, which is why so many of us consider the author's work a sort of Holy Grail.
He has a lot of critics, but Tyler Perry maintained the integrity of Shange's poetry and her powerful underlying message. When the movie ended, I was a bit despondent -- bordering on tears. That's exactly how I felt the first time I read For Colored Girls. Tyler Perry's film drives Shange's message home... now if we can just help girls and women like Leisa Jones find the elusive rainbow before it's too late.