“The Color Purple” has left an indelible mark as an unforgettable American masterpiece, evolving through various forms—from Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel to Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated 1985 film and the 2005 Broadway musical, which garnered acclaim and was revived in 2015. The narrative completes its circle with a new movie adaptation of the musical, skillfully directed by Blitz Bazawule. This tale of female strength, perseverance, and solidarity continues to resonate, engaging audiences with each iteration as it captures the enduring bond between sisters against all odds.
Blitz Bazawule, a Ghanaian filmmaker, musician, and author, proves to be an ideal match for the material, infusing each frame with energetic musicality and artistry. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s dynamic approach keeps the camera in constant motion, synchronized with the talented cast’s rendition of songs from the stage musical and new compositions for the movie by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray.
Set in the early 20th century on the Georgia coast, “The Color Purple” unfolds the story of two sisters, Celie (played by Phylicia Pearl Mpasi and later Fantasia Barrino) and Nettie (Halle Bailey), separated by the brutality of men during their teenage years. Celie, abused by her father Alfonso (Deon Cole), is forcibly married to the violent Mister (Colman Domingo). Nettie, Celie’s cherished sister, escapes the advances of men and becomes a teacher in Africa, but her written correspondence is intercepted by Celie’s cruel husband.
As an older, meek, and abused Celie (Fantasia Barrino) seeks inspiration, she finds it in two contrasting women. Sofia (Danielle Brooks), her stepdaughter-in-law, bursts onto the scene with self-possessed confidence, challenging anyone who tries to belittle her. Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), a sultry blues singer, introduces Celie to the empowering nature of pleasure. These women become Celie’s guiding lights, paving the way for her self-discovery and opening the door for Nettie’s return.
Bazawule’s modern approach to the material pays homage to Broadway musical traditions, with lively song-and-dance numbers transitioning from the Great White Way to the dirt roads of Georgia. Laustsen’s camera work, reminiscent of Busby Berkeley, captures the choreography with an overhead, spiritual presence. The film embraces references to classical Hollywood while distinctly embodying its contemporary moment, portraying juke joints in swamps and Spanish moss-draped oak trees.
While the craftsmanship is stunning, “The Color Purple” owes much to its stellar cast. Domingo delivers a terrifying performance as Mister, Corey Hawkins impresses as Harpo, Mister’s son and Sofia’s on-and-off-again beau, and Henson ignites the screen as Shug. Barrino, making her film debut, captivates as Celie, holding the emotional core over decades.
However, it’s Danielle Brooks who steals the spotlight with her spirited portrayal of Sofia. Her character undergoes a dramatic, tragic arc, and Brooks infuses fire, humor, and grit into every frame. Her rendition of “Hell No” becomes a powerful anthem, electrifying the screen.
Transformations are inevitable when translating a book into a movie through a stage musical, and this iteration of “The Color Purple” is no exception. Yet, the raw emotions, authentic characters, and the enduring power of its message remain unchanged. Despite tackling dark material, the film’s journey inspires standing ovations, repeatedly making audiences want to cheer.
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Levar Kemp is the Editor-In-Chief of Snubb3d Magazine. He is a alum of Howard University in Washington D.C. Mr. Kemp is a producer, director and has a passion for the arts. His diverse background in the industry includes but not limited to: BET, VIACOM, VH1, and other well known publications.