Goodness, no, Tyler Perry did not make a great movie. If you were hoping For Colored Girls would channel the spirit of Ntozake Shange's original sensuous poem-play born in a lesbian bar outside Berkeley at the height of the Vietnam War—yeah, that's not happening. But that restless spirit of third world feminism did rise up Monday night inside the Egyptian Theatre, where hundreds of women and men of color (along with off-whites—anti-racist whites) got together for one of a handful of prescreenings across the country. "I felt joy sitting in a room full of black people watching a film," one woman said afterward. She didn't like the movie, but the movie wasn't the point. "It was almost like the audience transcended the film."

What's at stake in a movie like For Colored Girls—Shange's original was called For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf—is nothing short of a national portrait of black women. It's a political event regardless of Perry's Christian sexual hang-ups, his heavy-handed style (and inclination to allow Janet Jackson to pretend she can act), and the fact, simply, that he's a male presenting a very female set of stories. You can almost forget Perry, thanks to the sheer power of the actresses (except you-know-who); I haven't seen any other performances this year that compete with these—especially from Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine, and Phylicia Rashad. (And Macy Gray gives the juiciest cameo of the year as a back-alley abortionist from hell.)

Monday's event was organized by new Seattle collective Real Colored Girls, and cofounder Christa Bell spoke from the stage to emphasize the occasion: a moment to rethink images of black women. "Real colored girls," she said, "are offended and bored."

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The postshow discussion was a blend of confession and critique that sent currents of conversation out into the night. "That happened to me, to my sister; this movie was a mirror." "He skipped all the high points of being a black woman; I have never seen so many images of black women shaking and crying." "I had a problem with this film as a brother. We get maybe six movies a year. I'd rather be watching The Cosby Show."

Later, at a bar, somebody was telling a story about when Jill Scott came to play Benaroya Hall. "When she got onstage and saw all of us black folks out there in the audience, she said, 'If I'd had any idea that you were here, I would have set my flight to later!'" The screening of For Colored Girls was a rally for the black women of Seattle, who've been here all along and are ready for a damn close-up. recommended

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