The Color Purple did right by its source material. The 1982 novel was frequently banned, but that wasn’t enough to keep African American author Alice Walker from winning a Pulitzer Prize. The movie was made only 3 years after the book was published with none other than Steven Spielberg as director. It was his first serious drama, even though people thought it should’ve had a black director. Despite being Jewish and understanding the material well enough to do the film justice. I’m always impressed by Spielberg’s ability to turn even the most tragic stories into fully engaging epics. Apart from its reputation, I actually never knew much about The Color Purple growing up.
It’s the tale of two African American sisters growing up in the South at the turn of the 20th Century. A saga that spans approximately 40 years. Like most black women at the time, Celie is constantly mistreated by the men in her life. The PG-13 rating makes the darker themes easier to get through, but no less uncomfortable. Racism is present, but that’s not the primary focus. The only person who cares about Celie is her close sister Nettie. Unfortunately, Celie’s life takes a turn for the worst when her abusive father gives her to the equally abusive Mister and he separates the sisters for what seems like an eternity. The ensemble cast of respected black performers delivers some of their best work.
Whoopi Goldberg makes her breakout feature film debut as Celie. Effectively showing her progression from timid maid to strong independent black woman. Oprah Winfrey makes her film debut too, by practically disappearing in the role of the strong-willed Sophia. Even the much more irredeemably cruel Mister and Old Mister are fleshed out with Danny Glover and Adolph Caesar in the roles. The final ingredient was Margaret Avery holding the family together as singer/showgirl Shug Avery. SPOILER ALERT! It was satisfying to finally see Celie stand up for herself and just as emotional to witness her tearful reunion with her sister. The Color Purple had 11 Academy Award nominations, but not a single win. Ironically, it lost Best Picture to another female focused film with Africa as a setting. The Color Purple may have been overlooked, but that doesn’t make it any less deserving of appreciation.