Heart & Soul, October 2010

By Charreah Jackson

To be back, you had to have gone somewhere. And Ntozake Shange has stayed present for more than 30 years for capturing the experiences of black women in her work, including her award-winning choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” Tyler Perry’s film adaptation of her groundbreaking piece is now in theaters with an all-star cast of black women including Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad and more. Shange shares her thoughts on the historic film and why she never thought she would see this day.

HEART & SOUL: Congrats on your words meeting a new generation. Fans are anxious to see how Tyler Perry brought your words to the big screen. What made you say yes to a new film adaptation to your work?
Thirty years ago we did a movie featuring actors from the show’s L.A., New York and traveling cast. That was the last time I thought about or considered a movie. Nzinga Stewart, a brilliant young director and writer, approached me with all these stellar actresses and a new script she was working on. She got a grant from Lionsgate, and Mr. Perry was assigned to assist her because it was her first time directing. He got more interested than he expected, and the next thing I knew they were asking me for a contract with Mr. Perry to write and direct this piece.

HEART & SOUL: And what are your thoughts on the final project?
I was praying all the time that it would work out and the Lord must have heard me because it’s more than a decent film; it’s a good one. I am 75 percent satisfied with this film. He tried very hard to stay true to the work itself. We just have an aesthetic difference, but that’s his choice as a director. I know my work is different from his.

HEART & SOUL: So many of the themes in “For Colored Girls” are still so present today. What do you see as the biggest thing black women can do so in the next 30 years some of these issues still aren’t so present?
Get yourself some therapy. Find support groups of people have gone through what you have. We have to talk to one another.

HEART & SOUL: Your new novel, “Some Sing, Some Cry,” debuted last month and is inspired by your own family history. How did learning more about the women who came before you impact you and your writing?
Zora Neale Hurston and Lorraine Hansberry are big inspirations of mine, and inspire me for different reasons. Zora Neale went through the same kind of harassment and people chastising her for her lifestyle and making rumors about her, that I did. Her relationship with Langston Hughes fell apart. A lot of that was happening to me, too, as people tried to con me. It didn’t happen, but certainly took up a lot of time. With Lorraine Hansberry, one of my goals was to pass her since she lived to 34. So my life now, I never imagined, because I didn’t see myself living past 34. When I turned 34, I probably had more champagne than I should have, since I didn’t think I’d live past that day. This is all a gift and a game.

Watch the trailer for Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” based on Shange’s play:


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