The Color Purple (1985) is based on Alice Walker’s diary-formatted novel, about life for African Americans during the early 1900s in the American South. It is well translated to the screen.
It begins with teenager Celie giving birth to twins, their father is Celie’s father.
When she is older, Celie becomes the housewife of Albert (Danny Glover), who needs her to look after his household chores. Though Albert would sooner have married Celie’s sister Nettie because she is more attractive.
Celie, they say, is ugly, but knows how to work hard, and Nettie isn’t for “sale”.
A hard thing for Celie to take is when Nettie is visiting Celie and she’s thrown out of Albert’s house. The separation of the close bound sisters is raw.
The hard life abounds in The Color Purple. When I looked closely at the first half, it is bleak. Manhood and masculinity are equated with aggression and abuse to show who’s boss, but it leaves the women in their lives hurting and fighting for survival. Inter-generational sins of the fathers come down to visit the sons.
It’s not an easy watch in the first half, but shows people doing the best they can in a difficult world. This is someone’s story. This is real. But what’s inflicted on others is still unacceptable.
The meaning of ‘purple’, an intermediately colour between the colds of blue and the hots of red, sums up the first half. Life can be ‘blue’ or ‘red’, but in between is how one copes, it’s not flash, but somehow one gets through. It’s the ‘colour purple’.
But the second half is transcendent. Here’s the theme of having enough and confronting the abuse. Here’s taking a stand, here’s finding redemption. It’s also about coming to terms with God in their almost hopeless world.
As well, the second half broadens the scope of the film, to how black and white interact. Sofia, played with spunk and fire by Oprah Winfrey, comes out worse for ware, in her interactions with whites, but Sofia is not one that is easily walked over.
The Color Purple is rich in characters, performances, and delivers a redemptive story, but it also has bleak parts.
Whoopi Goldberg as Celie is outstanding in her subtle and nuanced delivery, Danny Glover is, as always, convincing, playing Albert, Celie’s husband by arrangement.
Great support comes in all directions, especially Margaret Avery as a singer who shows Celie affection for the first time and Oprah Winfrey storms her way through her role like a powerhouse.
The Color Purple (1985) **** Starring: Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey. Director: Steven Spielberg. Warnings: a profanity, domestic violence, and sexual situations.