In today’s cinematic climate of poorly-written re-makes, slasher movies, and lets-see-if-I-can-light-my-fart-on-fire (in 3D!) films, we’ve lost touch with the political grassroots of cinema.
“That movie was sooooo dramatic” said the girl to her friend. The pair of them were right in front of me as we shuffled out of the movie theatre.
“I know!” the friend replied. “It didn’t make me feel good at all!” I could sense the disappointment in her voice.
We’d just watched the premier of Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, a heartfelt drama based on a choreopoem written by Ntozake Shange. The film stars a cast of acclaimed black female actresses, including Whoopi Goldbery, Kimberly Elise, Phylicia Rashad and Janet Jackson.
For Colored Girls is not a feel good flick. The film showcases the worst life has to offer women: rape, poverty, sickness, death, abusive relationships, and loveless marriages. This is not Sex in the City: there are no limousines, no glamorous lunch dates or expensive clothes, no walk-in closets or fashion shows. Instead, the film unravels the lives of eight inner-city women, taking viewers through the crude realties of life on the other side of Manhattan.
The movie is hard to watch, and you don’t leave the theatre feeling happy, but since when did this become a bad thing? Since when did movies become about “feeling good”?
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Huxley imagines a futuristic society where no one has to feel any discomfort: no one gets fat, old, or ugly, and most importantly, everyone feels good all the time. The “feel good” feeling is sustained by two things: Soma, a hallucinogenic drug that makes the taker feel “as if on a holiday,” and movies.
The movies in Huxley’s World State are not called movies, though. They’re called feelies. Feelies induce “feel-good” sensations. Like everything else in The World State, feelies are about instant gratification; they always make you feel good and never upset or provoke.
As the world controller explains, “feelies” have replaced high art in The World State in order to maintain social stability:
“The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion. […] That’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed high art. We have the feelies […] instead”
In Huxley’s world, art is not allowed, because high art provokes, and the World State cannot thrive if people are upset or think too much.
For Colored Girls is not a feelie film. It confronts its viewer with a brutal depiction of a racist and sexist society years after women’s liberation and the so-called end of slavery.
Lyrical and flavorful, For Colored Girls will make you laugh, with comedic relief provided by the boisterous Juanita Green, played by Loretta Devine, but it will also make you cry; it will disturb and unnerve. It will hurt. But until we’ve reached dystopia, I want it to hurt.