Kimberly Elise: 'For Colored Girls,' A Selfless Act Director Tyler Perry's new film, For Colored Girls, is an adaptation of a 1977 Broadway play and tells stories of abuse and empowerment. Host Michel Martin speaks with actress Kimberly Elise about her role as Crystal and criticism that the film unfairly demonizes black men.

Kimberly Elise: 'For Colored Girls,' A Selfless Act

Kimberly Elise: 'For Colored Girls,' A Selfless Act

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Kimberly Elise, who plays the role of Crystal, is seen alongside co-star Michael Ealy, who plays her boyfriend Beau Willie, in the film For Colored Girls. Quantrell Colbert hide caption

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Quantrell Colbert

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange was one of the most provocative theater projects of its time. It began more than 30 years ago as a collection of seven poems by Shange and later found its way to Broadway and in theaters across the world.

The theatrical experience explored the lives of women -- black women, in particular -- and told stories of abuse and empowerment in a way that few other projects had.

Shange's work is the inspiration of a new major motion picture, directed by Tyler Perry, called For Colored Girls. The film opens in theaters Friday and stars Kimberly Elise, who recently spoke with NPR host Michel Martin about what she calls her pivotal role.

For Colored Girls (official trailer)


Kimberly Elise on learning about the original production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf as a child:

I lived in Minnesota at the time the play was released [in 1974]. It was just this mysterious, mystical thing that i could only witness from afar, from the oustide as a little girl. But I definitely felt the power of it and the effect that it had on women

On why she agreed to play the pivotal role of Crystal, whose character is abused by her war veteran husband who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder:

I felt an extra drive and obligation to do it, because I would be playing a woman who represents many, many women who go voiceless. ... It was really scary, but really exciting to dive in to some deep, deep waters.

On early criticism that the film unfairly demonizes black men as adversaries to black women:

I understand. It goes back to just really the lack of overall representation of blacks in the arts. Period. And so we get extra sensitive when we feel like there are repetitive images of us. ... If you're going to examine domestic abuse and rape, there's going to be a bad guy in the picture. The point is, these things happen to women. ... How do we strengthen ourselves and empower ourselves when we find ourselves in these situations? And to tell it, honestly, you have to go there.

On being part of an all-star ensemble cast of black actresses, including Phylicia Rashad, Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Lorretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose and Thandi Newton, among others:

It was wonderful. We all realized that this is something so much bigger than any one of us, and we need each other to make this work. It was like running a great race ... one girl would have the baton and run as fast as she could and pass it off to the next ... we were there to support each other. It was fantastic.