The color purple has had a long journey from Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to Academy Award-winning film adaptation to Tony Award-winning musical and back to the big screen. To understand director Blitz Bazawule’s vision, you have to go back to where it all began.
The color purple is an essential read. Alice Walker’s 1982 novel is a wonderful, heartbreaking, and difficult story about black women dealing with patriarchy and racism in Georgia in the early 1900s. Walker’s tender, emotional prose tells the story of Celie, a young black woman who knows all there is to know about pain. Abused, underestimated, and forced to be a passive force in her own life, Celie survives by sheer force of will, hoping that life will eventually give her a break. By the climax, she more than earns her happy ending, though it takes ages to get there.
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Three years after the novel’s release, Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of the same name won critical acclaim, box office success and 11 Oscar nominations with a win for Whoopi Goldberg in the title role. Up until this point in his career, Spielberg had only made films with white protagonists. He had done horror, sci-fi, action adventure and even comedy, but never anything quite like Walker’s painful Southern tale of families torn apart by patriarchy and racism. Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey – in her acting debut – were rightfully catapulted into mainstream stardom. Despite its white director, The color purple is considered a classic film noir and a shining example of a book-to-screen adaptation.
This time the director is a fresh face.
Credit: Warner Bros.
Those are big shoes to fill, so when this was first announced The color purple will be brought to the screen again – and this time in musical form – the question of who will direct is up in the air. Marcia Norman’s Tony win The color purple the musical had two successful Broadway runs, the first from 2005 to 2008, then again from 2015 to 2017, with the latter setting the wheels in motion for a new film adaptation. With Spielberg as producer this time, the seat was finally open for a black director to tell this story.
Ghanaian director Blitz Bazawule was tapped to helm the film, fresh off his collaboration with Beyoncé on her Disney+ visual album Black is king. With only one solo performance under his belt, The color purple is Bazawule’s grand entrance to Hollywood.
Daniel Brooks and Taraji P. Henson round out a great cast.
Credit: Warner Bros.
Bazawule’s version of The color purple still focuses on Celie, this time played by newcomers Phylicia Pearl Mpasi and Fantasia Barino in her biggest screen role yet. The film follows the character’s life from early adolescence to adulthood. Celie goes from living with her domineering father to marrying a man just like him; her marriage to Mr. (Rustin star Colman Domingo) is filled with endless obligations and isolation. Mister is bossy and proud, channeling all his insecurities and frustrations with the world onto the women and children around him. Having learned to create misery from his father (Louis Gossett Jr.), Mister passes his domineering behavior on to his son Harpo (Corey Hawkins), who begins to abuse his wife Sophia (Danielle Brooks).
Brooks has been a star since she first appeared as Taystee in the Orange is the new black and since then she has been a revelation. Here, she steps right into Oprah’s shoes as Sophia, and they fit perfectly. Reprising her role from the Broadway revival, her performance is fun, sexy, confident and impactful.
Meanwhile, as jazz singer Shug Avery, Taraji P. Henson is The color purplethe secret weapon of. Although she shone on the small screen in Empire, this is the first film in which Henson gets the space and focus to show the world how well he can sing on the big screen. All her numbers — from “What About Love?” to The Color Purple—stop the show, and she fills every scene with energy, kindness, and enthusiasm.
The color purple he struggled against her serious tone.
Credit: Warner Bros.
Despite all the talent involved, The color purple it feels uneven. Musicals function differently on the big screen, especially if the story isn’t sung all the way through. There should be a balance between spoken scenes and musical numbers that creates a unified vision.
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But the contrast between the joy and pure energy of the music and the dark content of the story doesn’t quite match. Movie musicals are often difficult to make, and Bazawule struggles to find the right balance. Some scenes seem rushed to set up the necessary Broadway songs, while others begin too quickly after the songs have finished. This can leave dramatic emotional moments with no breathing room to really resonate.
This Color Purple there is one big missed opportunity.
Credit: Warner Bros.
Like the first film adaptation, The color purple it leaves out a very important part of the book: Celie and Shug’s strange relationship.
The flirting is still there and there is chemistry between them, but none of it leads to anything close to the passion described in the book. Celie and Shug have a passionate, unconventional relationship not often depicted in black historical fiction, especially at the time of the novel’s publication. This new adaptation had the opportunity to explore this relationship in more detail, but instead largely chooses to stick to the framework established by Spielberg’s acclaimed adaptation. Walker knew that Celie’s pleasure was just as important as her pain, and it was disappointing that The color purple continues to relatively obscure a huge part of her life and identity. So to see that aspect once again relegated to the fringes of the story is disappointing.
Maybe another director like Dee Rees (Pariah, Mudbound) would honor the book’s overtly quirky spirit. This could have attracted new, young readers to discover the fullness of Walker’s novel after they left the theater.
generally, The color purple the movie musical is a mixed bag. While there’s no denying the talent involved The color purple, the parts don’t fit together. Still, it’s a joy to watch these actresses take on these legendary roles. The color purple is a classic story for a reason, and the spirit of its beauty still lives on.
The color purple hits theaters December 25.