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The Ever-Evolving Color Purple

By Diana Morose

“The Color Purple” is the second film adaptation of the novel following the 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg. This 2023 remake features a star-studded cast including Danielle Brooks, Fantasia Barrino and Taraji P. Henson.

Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones previously worked on the 1985 movie adaptation and are among the producers for this musical remake based on the stage musical of the book.

Alice Walker is an American novelist, poet and social activist. She became the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for “The Color Purple.” She states that the novel was inspired, in part, by a story that her sister told her about a love triangle involving their grandparents.

Set in the early 1900s in rural Georgia, the novel is centered around Celie, a young, poor, uneducated Black girl who writes letters to God because her father physically and sexually abuses her. The story follows Celie’s struggles and hardships in life before she eventually finds support and strength in sisterhood.

Since its debut in 1982, the novel has notably become one of the most banned and disputed books. According to the Banned Books Project, a public scholarship project started in 2019 by students at Carnegie Mellon University, some of the reasons for the book being banned include “religious objections, homosexuality, violence, African history, rape, incest, drug abuse, explicit language and sexual scenes.”

In 2017, “The Color Purple,” among 10,000 other books, was banned from all Texas State Prisons. The reason given is because Walker leads the reader to believe that Celie is sexually assaulted by her father. Conversely, “Mein Kampf ” by Adolf Hitler and two books written by David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, were not part of the ban.

A reason for dislike of the book in the African American community is due in part to Walkers’ brutal portrayal of Black men, sexual violence and homophobia. Demonstrators picketed the 1986 film’s premiere and Black celebrities such as Spike Lee condemned it for portraying Black men in a negative light.

Although the novel is purely fiction, it provides an accurate depiction of Black life after slavery ended in the South. This could play a part in why certain audiences may find the story to be a hard pill to swallow.

Oprah Winfrey starred in the original movie and defended it. In a 1986 article from The New York Times, Winfrey states, ‘’This movie is not trying to represent the history of black people in this country any more than ‘The Godfather’ was trying to represent the history of Italian Americans. In this case, it’s one woman’s story.’”

Amid “The Color Purple’s” resurgence in popularity with the remake, one star of the movie, Taraji P Henson, has voiced her concerns over the treatment that she and other cast members have faced while the movie was under production.

In an interview with The New York Times, Henson brought up instances where the actors were not given their own dressing rooms, food was not provided and they were expected to drive themselves to set.

“It wears on your soul because you fight so hard to establish a name for yourself and be respected in this town to no avail… I’m not the person that pulls the race card every time, but what else is it, then? Tell me. I’d rather it not be race, please give me something else.”

“I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do and getting paid a fraction of the cost,” said Henson during a SiriusXM interview with Gayle King while promoting the film.

Taraji P. Henson has stated that she almost left the production due to the pay disparity.

Overall, the new musical remake has been well received by audiences.

Sierra Johnson, a marketing and graphic design major, recently saw the 2023 remake and was asked about her viewing experience:

“I hadn’t seen the first one but I think the musical made it more easy to grasp, especially for those who can’t handle abuse and violence. The music choice and the singing and dancing was absolutely beautiful and heartfelt… It made me think about heave n on earth; that even though we all have our differences and take different paths, that we can still come together in the end and that’s what family is about.”

Johnson’s thoughts echo what critics and audiences had to say about the movie. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has an 82 percent critics score and a 95 percent audience rating.

“It didn’t feel like they were just acting, it felt like it meant something deeper to them.” Johnson said.

The new adaptation was available for streaming on Max.

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