The Color Purple

Ann Rennie 13 January 2024

A woman faces many hardships in her life, but ultimately finds extraordinary strength and hope in the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood.

The Color Purple. US, 2023. Starring: Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, Deon Cole. Directed by Blitz Bazawule. 2 hours 20 minutes.

There is much to enjoy in this wide-reaching movie musical. It is based on the Broadway show (2005) which itself was based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning book of the same name, first published in 1982.

The story of Celie Harris (Barrino) is one of hurt and horror that is ultimately redeemed by time and her own quiet and enduring heroism. As a poor, black woman at the turn of the century in Georgia, life delivers her only backhanders. She is raped and has two children by her step-father and is sold in marriage as a virtual domestic slave to keep house for Mister (Domingo) and his three children. She suffers at his hands, physically and emotionally and is frequently humiliated. Her sole joyful relationship is with her sister Nettie who is forced to leave the property when she refuses Mister’s advances.

The two siblings are long separated, not even knowing whether one or the other is dead, but the love they share is seen through the scenes with letters arriving at the mailbox, letters written each week in hope. That Mister hides these from Celie only adds to the array of small cruelties that beset her.

Celie believes ardently in God and the film shares some lovely scenes of the intensity and clamour of gospel meetings. Interestingly, although this faith aspect underpins much of the grace and resilience that Celie shows despite her adversities, few have commented on this rich seam which can provide solace when life is bleak. The church community is the glue that holds things together when everything else is fraying at the edges.

Mister loves the blues singer Shug Avery (Henson) and she comes to stay in his home, being waited on as she recovers from the excesses of her show-biz lifestyle. She is imperious, volatile, sexy, sultry and sassy. Her entrance to the juke joint run by Mister’s son, Harpo (Hawkins) is especially good, dressed in shining red, a femme fatale, with all the men going weak at the knees as she shimmers sinuously towards them. But Shug is not just a vamp. Over the course of the movie, she helps Celie discover her own voice, her own inner sparkle, with hints that their friendship has moved beyond the platonic. I particularly like their shared 1930s musical number, initially filmed in black and white and morphing into colour.

The other strong female character is Sofia (Brooks), larger than life, opinionated and a woman who will not be told. When she utters ‘Hell, no’ to the offer of being the mayor’s wife’s maid and a rumble ensues, her life takes a sad turn and she is imprisoned for a number of years. Celie visits her faithfully each week. This film does not shy away from the racial issues of the time, although these are glossed over somewhat in comparison to the 1985 film which starred Oprah Winfrey in this role. It was also good to see Whoopi Goldberg, the original film Celie, in a small cameo as a midwife.

I enjoyed a number of the ensemble music scenes – the women, washing and dancing at the waterfall, the men working on the chain gang, the fancy footwork in Miss Celie’s Fancy Pants store. These effervescent and well-choreographed numbers took away some of the sting from what could otherwise be seen as a tale of ongoing spousal abuse. The dinner table scene where Celie finally stands up for herself and says what she feels is a standout. She has survived with grace and dignity. She is here, regardless of what life has thrown at her.

Redemption and forgiveness also feature towards the end of the film. Shug and her pastor father are reconciled and Mister finds a goodness within himself. Finally meeting her children brings things full circle and the film ends on a happy, if slightly cheesy, note.

The acting is uniformly strong and the songs help to reinforce the narrative or provide something of an interior monologue for Celie. The notion of female solidarity is clear, especially in the song ‘Sister’ and this film championed the true grit of women who had little choice in their lives, yet somehow managed to make them meaningful. Ultimately, an uplifting film of survival, faith and hope, leavened with good songs and some humour, making us think about the possibility of healing rifts of hurt and anger with grace and goodwill.

Warner Bros
Released 25 January
Main: Fantasia Barrino as Celie in Warner Bros Pictures’ bold new take on a classic, The Color Purple, Warner Bros. Credot: Warner Bros Pictures. Above: Danielle Brooks as Sophia (centre). Credit: Eli Ade.
© 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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