My Mental Health: For Colored Girls expresses ten kinds of pain

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Digital Spy staff are sharing their stories of when TV shows and movies spoke to them about their own experiences with mental health problems.

For Colored Girls is a 2010 film that explores the lives and struggles of ten black women, who each faced a different personal conflict in their lives, including love, betrayal, abandonment, rape, domestic violence and abortion.

Black women don’t get a lot of screentime, typically. So when they do, black women sit up and take notice. Being able to see yourself – someone who could be you in a way that, say Anne Hathaway never could – it matters.

As I watched each character’s story progress, I couldn’t help but see myself in all of these women – even though I hadn’t faced half their struggles. Yet their pain was something that I could feel beating inside of me.

Meet Juanita Sims (Loretta Devine), a strong, inspiring, hard-working black woman. Someone I’d look up to. Fierce by nature and strong headed, yet constantly let down by the man she loves, and although she knows he’s going to mess up again and again, she still welcomes him back with open arms. A situation that twentysomething me knew all too well.

Then there’s Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose): a dancer, a poet, another strong black woman. We first see her with Bill (Khalil Kain), in what seems to be a story of potentially perfect love. He shows interest, woos her, takes her for dinner and after gaining her trust (and through his persuasion), she invites him round for dinner.

In what could be ones of the film’s most harrowing storylines, Bill betrays Yasmine’s trust, overpowering her and raping her. Yasmine does what every woman is told to do: she seeks help, and reports his nasty, vicious attack. The film addresses victim-blaming culture with statements such as: “She knew him, she must have wanted it,” it was “a misunderstanding”, “These things happen”, “So you invited him in, what did you expect was going to happen”?

What?!

Anika Noni Rose’s character explores Ntozake Shange’s powerful poem Latent Rapists, which questions the attitude that if a woman spends time with a man in any form of social environment, she could not have been ‘raped’.

“Women relinquish all personal rights in the presence of a man who apparently could be considered a rapist, especially if he has been considered a friend.”

But it’s Crystal Wallace’s (Kimberly Elise) story that resonated with me the most. The one in whom I most saw myself, and shared her feelings of unhappiness, depression, of feeling like my world had ended.

Her partner Beau Willie (Michael Ealy) is an abusive alcoholic who, clearly suffering from PTSD, can’t find a way to seek help for his pain, and so takes it out on his girlfriend, and fatally, their two children.

After experiencing a similar (albeit not as extreme) situation, I couldn’t see a way out. I became reclusive. I stopped eating. Socialising. Had moments where I would break down at work. I didn’t leave the house. I wanted death to find me. I did and thought unspeakable things. My mind was totally gone. Everything she experienced on screen, I felt deeply, inside of me.

My friends tried to help. One of them called me daily, told me to get dressed and come out. I appreciated the gesture, I still do. Sometimes it would take me over an hour just to get out of bed, longer to wash, and even longer to get in my car.

I drove, I cried, I went home. I was dead inside.

After some time, my friends helped a lot. They came round, fed me, made me laugh, and kept me happy. Slowly, but surely, I began to live again, but this time, a new me, a stronger me.

At the end of For Colored Girls, we see eight of the women group together on the rooftop of Juanita’s community centre. They hold each other up and support each other.

Women hold each other up when times are down. For Colored Girls reminds me that life experiences, hardships and relationships are what make us strong, powerful and resilient. Girl power has never had a truer meaning.

Also in our My Mental Health series:

Panic attacks – and an obscure Guy Pearce period horror from 1999

How horror movies helped me process grief

What The Sopranos taught me about mental illness

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 is May 14-20, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, with this year’s theme of ‘Stress’. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

If you identify with any of the stories in our My Mental Health series, you may need to talk to someone. Other organisations who can offer support include Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), and Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) also has helplines available from 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58 (nationwide) and 0808 802 58 58 (London) (www.thecalmzone.net/).

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