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Playwright Ntozake Shange reacts to criticism of 'For Colored Girls'

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... When Government Responsibility Is 'Enuf'

Politics & Society

... When Government Responsibility Is 'Enuf'

Samoine Chapman pauses to think as she votes with her daughter Giada Chapman, 3, in Denver, Colorado, in the recent midterm elections. Marc Piscotty/Getty Images hide caption

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You might have heard about the new movie, For Colored Girls, which opened over the weekend. I've been telling people it's hard for me to experience it with fresh eyes and ears because like many black women my age, it made a powerful impression on me when I first saw the play, ”For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf”, as a young woman in various theaters around the country. I think I saw it at least twice in New York, and for sure in Boston, and maybe New Haven, or so I remember.

The ladies in the play in their rainbow colored dresses, talking openly about things that I could barely get my roommates to discuss late at night with all the shades drawn, never failed to move me. But then, as now, I always understood the criticism that it cast a harsh and unnecessarily unforgiving light on black men.

So last week I had the chance to ask the playwright, Ntozake Shange, about how that criticism resonated with her. This is what she said:

Playwright Ntozake Shange reacts to criticism of 'For Colored Girls'

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“It never resonated with me. It felt like bullies. I felt like beaten up by bullies. It went on for years…The show says For Colored Girls. It aint ask no man to come up in there.”

But what you 're not getting here is how she drew out the words.

For. Colored. Girls.

So it was like girrrlllllls...and the almost coquettish way she said, “I ain’t ask no man to come up in there,” in other words, well, you don't really need any other words. But just in case, the message is that you can crash the party but don't be shocked if there's no plate for you because you weren't exactly invited!

Now, you can debate the point. The thing about a work of art that succeeds and endures is that ultimately it is for everybody, or people can find something real and true in it even if it is not technically FOR them. But I take her point about an experience that is optional. I don't get upset at “Twilight” movies, video games like Grand Theft Auto, beer commercials and shows on the Disney Channel because they are not for me.

But what about when our politicians are the ones giving us that message?

Can I just tell you? That's what comes to mind when I keep hearing people tell me they are taking the country back. How many times have we heard it this year, last year and the year before that? Come to think of it, the year before that, too. When I hear people say they are taking the country back, I always have the same reaction: Who took it? How'd they get it? Witchcraft? Or the same elections in which your side won? And who says it's (just) yours to begin with?

I am also struck by the wide range of people who seem to feel this way. In the recent midterm elections for example, we were being told that Republican victories were fueled by anger over a sense of disenfranchisement and that Washington is not listening to the people. We were also told that Democratic losses were enabled by anger, or disappointment, and that Washington is not listening to the people.

So, who is that guy Washington is listening to? Can it be the case that the wealthy who want to keep their tax cuts and the people who don't want them to, the seniors who want to keep their government subsidized health care and the people who want something like it, the people who want immigration reform and the people who don't, all believe that nobody is listening? Or do we now believe that anything short of total victory is defeat, and that there is no responsibility to seek common ground with people who disagree with us? It makes me want to holler like the character Ms. Shange called the lady in green who said, “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff.”

Who is that guy anyway?