Discovering New Depths, Female Bonding, and Emotional Recovery in ‘The Color Purple’

by Madison Thomas
Cinematic Transformation

It’s common knowledge that Fantasia Barrino initially hesitated to reprise her role as Celie. The former “American Idol” winner had a challenging experience with “The Color Purple” on Broadway.

Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel portrays the harrowing tale of Celie, a woman subjected to sexual, physical, and psychological abuse in the early 20th century South, conveyed through a series of letters to God. For Barrino, portraying this character was emotionally demanding, and leaving it behind at the end of the day was no easy feat. Even the prospect of starring in her first major motion picture didn’t initially seem appealing.

However, director Blitz Bazawule had a unique vision: He aimed to infuse Celie with imagination, a concept that intrigued Barrino.

“After she grasped the essence of the role, she readily agreed,” Bazawule revealed in a recent interview with The Big Big News.

Now, four decades after “The Color Purple” became a literary sensation and a Steven Spielberg film, the story returns to the big screen. This time, it’s a lavish Warner Bros. musical with a substantial budget, featuring Barrino, Taraji P. Henson as the sultry singer Shug Avery, and Danielle Brooks reprising her Broadway role as the strong-willed Sofia. The film is set to open in theaters nationwide on Christmas.

“I’m grateful that I didn’t allow my past experience with Celie, shaped by where my life was at that time, to deter me from embarking on something truly remarkable,” Barrino reflected. “I’m currently on a euphoric journey.”

Oprah Winfrey is one of the prominent producers of “The Color Purple,” alongside Spielberg, Quincy Jones, and Scott Sanders. Winfrey, who played Sofia in the 1985 adaptation, before later turning it into a Broadway musical, owes her acting breakthrough and her first Oscar nomination to the film.

However, Bazawule was an unexpected choice to direct this film. The versatile Ghanaian artist had gained acclaim for co-directing Beyoncé’s visual album “Black is King.” His only other film credit was the low-budget “The Burial Of Kojo,” produced for less than $100,000.

Yet, he harbored ambitious ideas, envisioning grand musical numbers that would take audiences on a dazzling journey through the history of Black music in America, encompassing gospel, blues, and jazz, while also delving into Celie’s inner world. Despite uncertainties, he was determined to tell the story he envisioned.

“I thought, if I could find a way to show the audience how this Black woman from the rural South managed to envision her way out of pain and trauma, it would challenge the myth that people who have endured traumatic abuse are docile or passive, waiting to be rescued,” Bazawule explained. “If we could imbue Celie with that scale, then that’s the version that needed to exist. Fortunately, they agreed.”

However, securing the necessary budget (reportedly around $100 million) was no easy task. It involved auditions for Henson, an Oscar-nominated actor, and Brooks, already a Tony nominee for her portrayal of Sofia.

“We weren’t the studio’s first choices,” Henson admitted. “I had some reservations about auditioning. I’m an Academy Award nominee. I had just finished performing in NBC’s ‘Annie Live.’ But I set aside my ego and auditioned. I went in as Shug, found the right dress, adorned it with a flower in my hair and a faux fur stole, and made a powerful impression, ensuring they wouldn’t second-guess me again.”

For Brooks, the audition process spanned six months and tested her self-confidence. Many involved in “The Color Purple” faced the challenge of proving themselves once again, but they were committed to rising to the occasion because the film was worth it.

“This is a monumental undertaking,” Brooks emphasized. “I’ve referred to this movie as a cinematic heirloom.”

Compared to her minimalist Broadway experience, working on location in Georgia, around Macon, Savannah, Atlanta, and the small town of Grantville, provided a transformative experience for Brooks.

“My world truly expanded as I could engage all my senses,” Brooks shared. “I got to explore Sofia more fully, now with a juke joint and a dinner table at my disposal. I had a house to inhabit. We even had a scene with a white mob attacking me.”

Creating the juke joint required dredging a real swamp for Shug’s show-stopping number, “Push Da Button.”

“It’s the perfect synergy of my remarkable technical and creative teams,” Bazawule proudly stated.

The film brings a fresh boldness to Celie and Shug’s relationship, while also providing more depth to the male characters, including Colman Domingo’s Mister.

Everyone involved carries the responsibility not only for honoring the source material and its predecessors but also for future films with predominantly Black casts at this level.

“It’s not my first time in a production of this scale, but what’s significant to me is that it’s a Black production, with a Black director, a predominantly Black cast,” Henson pointed out. “Usually, we’re expected to make something extraordinary out of very limited resources. After over two decades in the industry, it’s gratifying that the studio trusted us to deliver.”

The topic of awards is complex. Although “The Color Purple” has all the makings of a major Oscar contender (Barrino and Brooks have already received Golden Globe nominations), it comes with historical baggage. Spielberg’s film earned 11 Oscar nominations but famously won none. Additionally, the issue of Black women and Hollywood awards remains sensitive, with Halle Berry remaining the sole Black best actress Oscar winner.

Bazawule, however, isn’t particularly concerned about the awards season spectacle. He struggles to understand the notion of pitting one film against another but acknowledges that nominations and wins can translate into increased opportunities and creative freedom, especially for his actors, particularly the women.

“Our mission was to pay homage to Alice Walker’s brilliant book, and we accomplished that,” he asserted. “We found healing through this process, and our Q&A sessions have been extraordinary. Now, that’s something I’d like an award for.”

All involved seem to share the sentiment that their experience goes beyond any validation from awards.

“There’s something magical about this story,” Brooks concluded. “It profoundly touches your heart, opening it in the most beautiful way. I’ve never encountered anything quite like the journey of working on ‘The Color Purple.'”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Cinematic Transformation

What is “The Color Purple” about?

“The Color Purple” is based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and tells the story of Celie, a woman who endures sexual, physical, and psychological abuse in the early 20th century South. It explores her journey of healing and empowerment through a series of letters to God.

Who are the main stars of the new film adaptation?

The new film adaptation of “The Color Purple” features Fantasia Barrino as Celie, Taraji P. Henson as Shug Avery, and Danielle Brooks as Sofia. They form a strong ensemble cast.

Why did Fantasia Barrino initially hesitate to reprise her role as Celie?

Fantasia Barrino had a challenging experience playing Celie on Broadway and found it emotionally taxing to portray the character. She was initially reluctant to return to the role.

Who directed the new adaptation of “The Color Purple”?

Blitz Bazawule directed the new adaptation of “The Color Purple.” He is known for co-directing Beyoncé’s visual album “Black is King.”

What sets this film adaptation apart from previous versions?

This new adaptation aims to bring a fresh perspective to the story by infusing Celie with imagination and providing more depth to the characters. It also features grand musical numbers that showcase the history of Black music in America.

What challenges did the production face in securing the budget for the film?

The production faced challenges in securing the necessary budget, which was reportedly around $100 million. This involved auditions for prominent actors like Taraji P. Henson and Danielle Brooks to convince studio executives of their suitability for the roles.

Why is this film significant for Black cinema?

“The Color Purple” is significant for Black cinema because it represents a predominantly Black production with a Black director, cast, and crew. It highlights the importance of supporting and trusting Black talent in the film industry.

What are the expectations regarding awards for this film?

While “The Color Purple” has the potential to be a major Oscar contender, it also faces historical challenges. Steven Spielberg’s earlier adaptation was nominated for 11 Oscars but did not win any. The film raises questions about representation and recognition for Black women in Hollywood awards.

How did the actors and director feel about their experience working on the film?

The actors and director described their experience working on “The Color Purple” as transformative and profound. They emphasized the emotional impact of the story and the significance of being part of a Black-led production.

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DiversityMatters December 25, 2023 - 9:50 am

Imp stuff abt diversity in film, need more Black-led productions in Hollywood, it’s overdue.

BookLover23 December 25, 2023 - 1:39 pm

‘The Color Purple’ book is a classic, glad dey did justice in da movie adaptation, can’t wait to see it!

MovieFan99 December 25, 2023 - 5:08 pm

i luv Taraji P. Henson, she’s amazin’, but audishun for da role? she’s already a big star!

CinemaGeek December 26, 2023 - 1:13 am

Awards r tricky stuff, Spielberg’s movie didn’t win any Oscars? Crazy! Hope dis one gets recognition.

JSmith December 26, 2023 - 3:15 am

wow, gr8 story bout ‘The Color Purple’, looks like Fantasia had a tough time playin Celie, but dey pulled it off, that’s cool.


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