Monday, November 29, 2010
Writing for Colored Girls
I recently went to see For Colored Girls, the newest Tyler Perry production based off the 1970s play by Ntozake Shange, For Colored Girls Who Consider Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. The play to film adaptation is a bit awkward as some stage limitations and dramatics do not transfer well to the screen, but I still enjoyed it. And though the title more than suggest that this movie is intended for “colored girls," I found that the film’s strength lies in the universality of each woman’s story (seven in all) as manifestations of womanhood that transcend race or color. With a diverse representation of female roles in society as well as a diverse representation of societal and domestic issues (domestic violence, abortion, rape, struggle with monogamy), this movie feels like a story for the every-woman.
Unfortunately, the title may keep more than a few women away, as a good friend—who is Caucasian American—told me, “I would never see that movie. The billboard pissed me off.” Her issue was that the movie's title, posters, and trailers aggressively communicate that this movie isn’t for her, and she didn’t like it. This is interesting considering how many women of color have felt similarly about the latest rom-com opening starring Katherine Heigel or Amy Adams. It is evident to me that the film purposefully means to push against big-budget movie norms (as more than 90% of all the people in the film are African-American), but it is unfortunate that such a beautiful and universal story should make a woman feel unwelcome.
As a Latina writer, I often wonder if it is possible to tell a story that is specific and culturally grounded without being exclusive. I wonder what makes a story universal?
When I began The Immigration Project, I wanted to be able to tell individual immigration stories because I felt, and still feel, that by hearing specific stories of struggle, survival, and triumph, readers can find something human, something not unlike themselves. Even with all our differences—language, religion, politic, etc—there are innate things that make us human, individuals, and alive.
But no matter what my intentions are, many will only see my writing as Latino, Mexican-American, immigrant, minority, or colored and because of that there will be people who will not read my work because they think it is not for them or about them. But aren’t all stories about human existence in some way about us? So how can I be specific to my culture, language, and concerns, and yet at the same time not exclusive? Is it something I should even worry about? Or should I just work on telling a good story?
A couple of weeks ago I finished Junot Diaz’s book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Here is a story that’s microscope is acutely focused on an east coast urban, Dominican immigration story with a side of fanboy/speculative fiction. And even though it is a Latino-Caribbean immigration story, it hasn’t met any of usual limitations. Diaz has received national attention for his book, MFA students all over the country have picked it up, and I have had many friends from different educational and ethnic backgrounds recommend it to me. So what makes this book different from others like it, namely In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (my favorite book which is also about the Dominican Republic)? Diaz references Alvarez’s book more than once, but I doubt a large number of non-Latino people have clambered to read it. So what’s the difference? And should I be concerned? Should I worry that I am exclusively writing for “colored girls”? If I am, is there a way to be inclusive?
I will continue to ruminate, but for now I leave you with Junot Diaz’s take on this topic. I definitely liked what he had to say, and if you have read his book, it makes for a nice epilogue.