Movie: THE COLOR PURPLE
Rating: PG-13, mature thematic content, sexual content, violence and language
Release Date: December 25, 2023
Jeanne: THE COLOR PURPLE has a long and storied history, first as a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel by Alice Walker, next as a film in 1985 directed by Steven Spielberg, then as a musical stage production and book of the play by Marsha Norman in 2005 and now a musical movie. Directed by Blitz Bazawule, with a screenplay by Marcus Gardley, producer Oprah Winfrey, who starred in Spielberg’s film version with Whoopi Goldberg, has stated that it’s “Not your mama’s ‘Color Purple’, but your mama’s gonna love it, too.”
Ms. Winfrey could not be more spot on. This version of THE COLOR PURPLE maintains Walker’s integrity of her original story about lasting sisterhood and personal triumph. Bazawule and his crew have created a moviegoing experience not soon forgotten.
Even though you may think you’ve seen this material before, the luscious cinematography by Dan Laustsen, the outstanding production designs by Oscar-winner Paul Denham Austerberry, divine costumes by Francine Jamison-Tanchuck and spectacular choreography by Fatima Robinson will have you singing a different tune.
Featuring an astonishing cast boasting amazing voices, these actors will sing and dance their way into your heart. Starring Taraji P. Henson as the sultry blues singer Shug Avery, still trying to garner her preacher father’s approval, Danielle Brooks, reprising her Broadway role as the feisty Sofia, and making her motion picture debut is Fantasia Barrino playing Celie, the forlorn wife of Mister (Colman Domingo), a brutally abusive man who dreams of life with Shug.
These three women form a bond that is unshakeable --- by anyone. Each has been on a path of overcoming adversity in the early 20th century American South. Celie is especially downtrodden, as she doesn’t possess the self-assuredness of Shug and the will of Sofia.
After Mister banishes her little sister, Nettie (Halle Bailey), from his home, Celie feels her life is over. Her two children were taken from her right after their births --- and now her shining beacon of hope is gone, too. She is beaten into submission by Mister, who denigrates her at every turn. It isn’t until Shug arrives and takes an interest in her, that Celie begins to see her worth.
There are many memorable moments in THE COLOR PURPLE. With music and lyrics from the stage version by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, the production numbers are sensational, with innovative choreography that will make you want to get up out of your seat and dance along.
Plus, some of the set designs are equally dynamic. A large gramophone with an even bigger speaker playing a vinyl record while Shug bathes in a clawfoot tub is one image that immediately comes to mind --- stunning. And a big band scene typical of the Swing Era from the early 1930s until the late 1940s is another lavish depiction.
But it all falls to the talented players. Each and every character is well defined and the actors portraying them are phenomenal. Henson was born for the role of Shug --- she’s breathtaking --- and hilarious at times. Brooks is off the charts --- stealing every scene with her persona which is bigger than life. Barrino’s performance is simply heartbreaking --- full of truth and authenticity.
Do not be fooled thinking you’ve already seen this story. Bazawule’s THE COLOR PURPLE will engage, entertain and inspire --- more than you thought possible.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
David: If you are a fan of the original THE COLOR PURPLE from 1985 --- directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Oprah Winfrey, among others --- you may have thoughts about why another version is necessary in 2023? The answer is that the current film adaptation is a musical and should not be compared to Spielberg’s version. In fact, he and Winfrey are producers here. Like the original, it covers an epic span of about 39 years from 1909 to 1947 in rural Georgia, following the lives of several Black women who find inner strength in each other that enables them to endure tremendous hardships.
Chief among the abused women is Celie (Fantasia Barrino, double Grammy winner reprising her Broadway role for this film). She is made to give up her infant children and then forced into marriage with an abusive man named Mister (Colman Domingo). She and her sister Nettie (Halle Bailey from THE LITTLE MERMAID) are extremely close. When they are separated it is a life-shattering experience for Celie.
The other two major female characters in THE COLOR PURPLE are Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson) and Sofia (Danielle Brooks). They are not pushovers to the whims of men like Mister and they serve as fearless inspirations for Celie to eventually say enough is enough.
THE COLOR PURPLE is a highly moving story about love, friendship, strength of character and the human spirit. It sadly details the physical and mental abuse heaped on women by men of their own race, but when the victims ultimately stand up for themselves, it is wonderfully captured by director Blitz Bazawule.
There is an elongated scene at the dinner table when, after many years of marriage, Celie and Mister host a small group that includes Shug and her husband, Grady (Jon Batiste in a memorable cameo). The sequence is one of the highlights of this film --- of which there are many --- as the women finally find their voice and the men are left in shock.
The movie also suggests rather emphatically that even in the most vile individuals there exists more than a shred of decency. In another signature moment, Celie is seen sharpening a barber’s razor on a strop. Is this to be her revenge on Mister for years of abuse?
The ensemble cast is marvelous. But the quartet of Barrino, Henson, Brooks and Domingo is the heart of THE COLOR PURPLE. They are all highly awarded actors at the top of their game.
I will say that the casting of relative unknowns --- at least to moviegoers --- was a smart move because there are no distractions if certain roles had been performed by household names. Other than Ms. Henson, Ms. Bailey and Batiste, plus Louis Gosset Jr. in a small part, the remaining players may be recognizable only to Broadway aficionados. And that’s not a bad thing.
Like its predecessor, this film is based on Alice Walker’s acclaimed novel. For this version, Marcus Gardley wrote the adapted screenplay. Songs are reprised from the 2005 Broadway play and the dance numbers have to be seen to be believed. The choreography, created by Fatima Robinson, is supremely entertaining, often with scores of dancers in perfect unison. Smaller numbers, like men on a chain gang breaking rocks, are equally enjoyable.
THE COLOR PURPLE (2023) is easily one of the year’s best films and certain to be an Oscar nominee.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!