The Color Purple, Alice Walker’s Pulitzer winning novel, Marsha Norman’s Tony nominated musical and Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award nominated film, has been revied by Blitz Bazawule’s vibrant screen adaptation – chock full of star talent and sewn together with the essence of solidarity.
For those of you unfamiliar with the book/play/film/musical/made-for-film-musical, The Color Purple follows the character of Celie (Fantasia Barrino) through her life as a black woman in early 20th century Georgia. A heart wrenching narrative, Celie is at the behest of her father who uncaringly sends away to marry ‘Mister’ (Coleman Domingo), a far older man than her. Mister subjects Celie to his cruel and brutish nature, separating her from her sister Nettie (Halle Beiley), and humiliating her later in life by inviting his Mistress, Shug Avery (Taraji P Henson) to come stay with them. Despite this, Celie forms more than a friendship with Miss Avery, and with help from her spirited friend Sofia (Danielle Brooks), the sisterhood of The Colour Purple ensure that justice is served, and forgiveness is plentiful.
Out of courage comes compassion, and through atonement, forgiveness. Despite her beginnings, Celie is emboldened by memories of her mama and her lively sister, Nettie, and by her newly adopted sisterhood—dynamo Sofia and sensual Shug Avery. Each striving to overcome the adversity she was born into, Celie, Shug and Sofia must stick together in order to find their most authentic selves. It’s their unbreakable bond that will grant them each the faith to persevere as they forge their own identities as Black women against the odds in the rural, early 20th century American South.
It’s hard to sum up the tumultuous themes of novel, many of which still plague our society today, and this adaptation has definitely leant more so into the essence of love and empowerment in the face of adversity, rather than exploring the raw nature of the plot itself. The Broadway influence can be seen clearly in the cinematography and the choreography is incredibly clean and incredible to watch.
However, the limelight is snatched by leading ladies Brookes and Henson; their characterisation flawless and line delivery impeccable – each actress embodied the quintessence of Sofia and Shug perfectly. This instant likeability may have unfortunately overshadowed Barrino at points, but carried the new-found hopefulness in the narrative. Brookes’ Oscar nod is very well deserved.
“Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Color Purple’ is one of the cornerstones of culture, certainly Black culture, and the ability of Steven to take what was in the text and turn it into a major motion picture that was celebrated?” Bazawule posits. “I mean, the book already was a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, so he had his job cut out for him, and I think the fact that those lines are still quoted and are still part of the canon of culture tells you how important that is.
“So now, for this film, between myself, our writer Marcus Gardley, and many others on screen and behind the scenes,” Bazawule continues, “there’s a broad spectrum of Black culture, folk culture and Black music, a sense of spirituality and faith — all important elements that we infused this film with and that we celebrate in this film. And thanks to the stage musical, we also found a way to give Celie’s inner world its own voice visually, so there’s a sense of magical realism, too, that puts us all a little deeper inside Celie’s evolution.”
Whilst this may not be the truest adaption of Walker’s original book, fans of the musical and film alike will be delighted to see Celie’s touching story take to the big screen once more.
By Grace Sanders – Student Podcast Host