#SheReviews Film: The Color Purple

January 23, 2024

How do you remake a beloved award – winning book and dramatic film? You set it to music to give it a brand-new look. With Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg working together you know you are in for a sprawling cinematic experience filled with emotion and heart. Using the successful stage play as a template this beautifully filmed work is one for the lovers of musicals.

When The Color Purple was released on Christmas Day in the USA it blew away all expectations. This film became the largest Christmas Day opening since 2009 and the second largest in history. It tells the coming-of-age story of Celie who is growing up in Georgia in the 1900’s with her beloved sister, Nettie and cruel stepfather, Alphonso. Celie is abused, raped and mocked before finally being married off to the treacherous, Mister. This is quite harrowing to watch onscreen and thankfully the extravagant dance numbers and costumes could deflect some of the pain for this writer.

Celie’s life is one of drudgery and abuse, but she never loses hope. Hope that she will one day find her two children who were cruelly given away. Hope that she will see her sister again. Hope that someone will see and love her for who she is. Hope for the future.

In the second half Celie finds solace in the arms of sexy singer and fancy woman, Shug Avery. Shug has her own demons but comes to love the shy and kind Celie. This relationship brings forth many lovely scenes including a dream like bathtub scene. These two light up the screen and I would have liked to see more of their relationship together explored.

Violence is a big part of Celie and eventually, the feisty Sofia’s life. Women of the time, especially women of colour, were treated abominably, and the film does not shy away from this. It is certainly the three strong female leads who shine throughout. Their performances and voices are strong, and I enjoyed all the bluesy, jazz, ragtime, African music and gospel sounds. A memorable dance scene in a bar is raunchy and moody and Celie’s version of I’m Here brought this writer to tears.

Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson and Danielle Brooks are beautifully cast and immerse us in an emotional world which makes the almost three hour run time melt away. Watch out for a cameo from Whoopi Goldberg who was the original cinematic Celie. The character of Nettie, both as a child and adult, played by Halle Bailey and Ciara gives balance and teaches Celie to be proud of her heritage. Nettie is Celie’s true north, the most constant and calm influence in Celie’s life.

Special marks from me for the costume design with dropped waists, tea dresses, sequins and pearls all making an appearance. We can already see the film’s influence filtering through in our fashion. I particularly loved the colourful wide legged pants signifying independence.

The Color Purple is certainly one to watch with a group of girlfriends, as I did, as it has strong messages of self-love, triumph over adversity plus the power of sisterhood and female solidarity. We talked long after the movie was over about our reactions and the movie’s themes.

Directed by Blitz Bazawule, this film is an emotional spectacle which will touch your heart. You can see Oprah’s signature all over it. She has produced a movie with a lot of care and heart. There is warmth and violence in equal measure with great tunes that will have you tapping your toes or reaching for the tissues. The Color Purple is in Australian cinemas from January 25.

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