The Color Purple (film)
The Color Purple is a 1985 American coming-of-age period drama film directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay by Menno Meyjes, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel of the same name by Alice Walker. It was Spielberg's eighth film as a director, and was a change from the summer blockbusters for which he had become famous. The film was also the first feature-length film directed by Spielberg for which John Williams did not compose the music. The film stars Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Desreta Jackson, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey (in her film debut), Rae Dawn Chong, Willard Pugh, and Adolph Caesar in one of his final film roles.
|The Color Purple|
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
|Directed by||Steven Spielberg|
|Screenplay by||Menno Meyjes|
|Based on||The Color Purple|
by Alice Walker
|Music by||Quincy Jones|
|Edited by||Michael Kahn|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$142 million|
Filmed in Anson and Union counties in North Carolina, the film tells the story of a young African American girl named Celie Harris and shows the problems African American women faced during the early 20th century, including domestic violence, incest, pedophilia, poverty, racism, and sexism. Celie is transformed as she finds her self-worth through the help of two strong female companions.
The film was a box office success, raising $142 million from a budget of $15 million. The film received positive reviews from critics, receiving praise for its acting, direction, screenplay, score, and production merits; but it was also criticized by some critics for being "over-sentimental" and "stereotypical." The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, without winning any; it also received four Golden Globe Award nominations, with Whoopi Goldberg winning Best Actress in a Drama. Steven Spielberg didn't receive an Academy Award nomination for his directing, but did receive a Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement, and a Golden Globe nomination. The film was later included in Roger Ebert's book series The Great Movies.
Celie Harris is an African-American teenager in early 20th century rural Georgia who had two children by her abusive stepfather, both of whom have been taken from her. She is given away as a wife to widower Albert Johnson, who already has three children, and is soon abused. Celie's sister Nettie, whom she has vowed to protect, escapes their abusive stepfather and seeks shelter at the Johnson estate. Albert immediately takes a romantic interest in Nettie and lets her stay, where she and Celie promise to write each other should they ever be separated. Nettie teaches Celie to read and the two are happy together, until Albert sexually assaults Nettie while on her way to school. She successfully fights him off, and is forcibly removed from the property.
Years later, Celie is now a meek adult who has avoided standing up to Albert's continued abuse. His eldest son Harpo marries his girlfriend Sofia, a strong-willed, boisterous woman, and Celie is shocked to find her running a matriarchal household. On Albert's advice, Harpo attempts to overpower and strike Sofia in an attempt to better control her. After he fails, he asks Celie what to do. Confronted with her own inability to stand up to abuse, she also advises Harpo to start beating Sofia. Sofia forcefully retaliates, and confronts Celie about what she told Harpo, revealing the process that she has had to fight off abuse from the men in her family. She threatens to kill Harpo if he beats her again and telling Celie to do likewise to Albert. After going through back-and-forth abuse with Harpo, Sofia eventually leaves him, taking their children with her.
Albert and Harpo bring home Shug Avery, a showgirl and the former's long-time mistress, as she suffers from an unknown illness. Celie, who has slowly developed a fondness for Shug through a photograph sent to Albert, does not object to Shug's presence, and is in awe of Shug's strong-will and ability to stand up to Albert. She goes above and beyond in nursing Shug back to health, and Shug in turn takes a liking to her, writing and performing a song about her at Harpo's newly-opened bar. That night Shug dresses Celie up, they play and laugh until Shug confesses she plans to leave, Celie then confesses Mister beats her when Shug isn't there simply because she isn't Shug. Shug tells Celie that she thinks she's beautiful and that she loves her, they kiss and the camera pans away (we are left to assume they make love, as they do so in the book).
Celie decides to follow Shug to Memphis, but gets caught by Albert while she's frantically packing her things.
Sofia is imprisoned and separated from her children after being instigated into a violent confrontation that results in a riot. Years pass, and she, now a broken-spirited shell of her former self, is released from prison only to be immediately ordered by the judge to become a maid to the Mayor's wife, Ms. Millie. Having not seen her children in eight years, Sofia is allotted Christmas to be with her family, and Ms. Millie tries to drive her, but panics and turns around after encountering a group of Sofia's friends who are only trying to help her.
Shug returns to the Johnson household with her new husband Grady, expecting to receive a recording contract. Shug gives Celie a letter from Nettie, who tells her that she's working for a couple that has adopted Celie's children. Celie and Shug realize that Albert has been hiding Nettie's letters from Celie; while he and Grady are out drinking, the two search the house and find a hidden compartment under the floorboards filled with dozens and dozens of letters. Engrossed in reading Nettie's letters, Celie does not hear Albert's calls to shave him and he beats her. Celie considers killing Albert with the straight-razor, but Shug intervenes and stops her. At a family gathering including the Johnsons, the Averys, and Sofia's family, Celie finally speaks up against Albert, to the delight of Shug and Sofia, who breaks her silence and finds her old fighting spirit, which prompts Harpo's new wife Mary Agnes to stand up for herself as well. Albert continues to berate Celie, who then threatens and curses him. Shug and Grady drive away, taking Celie and Mary Agnes with them.
Years later, Celie owns and operates a tailor shop, Albert is old, drunk, and alone, and Harpo has made amends with Sofia; the two now running the bar together. Celie's stepfather passes away, and she finally learns from Nettie's letters that he wasn't their biological father, and that when their mother passed, the Harris property was legally inherited by Celie and Nettie. After not having performed since her illness, Shug starts singing at Harpo's bar again. Albert receives a letter from Nettie addressed to Celie, takes money from his secret stash and helps Nettie, her husband, and Celie's children return to the US, where they finally reunite while Albert watches from a distance.
- Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Harris Johnson
- Desreta Jackson as young Celie
- Danny Glover as Albert Johnson ("Mister")
- Oprah Winfrey as Sofia Johnson
- Margaret Avery as Shug Avery
- Táta Vega as Shug's singing voice
- Akosua Busia as Nettie Harris
- Adolph Caesar as Old Mister (Albert's Father)
- Willard Pugh as Harpo Johnson
- Rae Dawn Chong as Squeak
- Laurence Fishburne as Swain
- Carl Anderson as Reverend Samuel
- Grand Bush as Randy
- Dana Ivey as Miss Millie
- Bennet Guillory as Grady
- James Tillis as Henry "Buster" Broadnax
- Leonard Jackson as Alphonso "Pa" Harris
- Gayle King (uncredited) as Churchgoer
The Color Purple was a success at the box office, staying in U.S. theaters for 21 weeks, and grossing over $142 million worldwide. In terms of box office income, it ranked as the #1 rated PG-13 film released in 1985, and #4 overall.
The film received positive reviews from critics, receiving praise for its acting, direction, screenplay, score, and production merits, but was criticized by some for being "over-sentimental" and "stereotypical". Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 85% based on reviews from 27 critics, with an average score of 6.87/10. The website's critical consensus states: "A sentimental tale that reveals great emotional truths in American history." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 78 out of 100, based on 7 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film four stars, calling it "the year's best film." He also praised Whoopi Goldberg, calling her role "one of the most amazing debut performances in movie history" and predicting she would win the Academy Award for Best Actress. (She was nominated but did not win.) Ebert wrote of The Color Purple:
The world of Celie and the others is created so forcibly in this movie that their corner of the South becomes one of those movie places—like Oz, like Tara, like Casablanca—that lay claim to their own geography in our imaginations. The affirmation at the end of the film is so joyous that this is one of the few movies in a long time that inspires tears of happiness, and earns them.
Ebert's long-time television collaborator, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, praised the film as "triumphantly emotional and brave", calling it Spielberg's "successful attempt to enlarge his reputation as a director of youthful entertainments." Siskel wrote that The Color Purple was "a plea for respect for black women." Although acknowledging that the film was a period drama, he praised its "... incredibly strong stand against the way black men treat black women. Cruel is too kind a word to describe their behavior. The principal black men in The Color Purple use their women—both wives and daughters—as sexual chattel."
Mr. Spielberg has looked on the sunny side of Miss Walker's novel, fashioning a grand, multi-hanky entertainment that is as pretty and lavish as the book is plain. If the book is set in the harsh, impoverished atmosphere of rural Georgia, the movie unfolds in a cozy, comfortable, flower-filled wonderland. ... Some parts of it are rapturous and stirring, others hugely improbable, and the film moves unpredictably from one mode to another. From another director, this might be fatally confusing, but Mr. Spielberg's showmanship is still with him. Although the combination of his sensibilities and Miss Walker's amounts to a colossal mismatch, Mr. Spielberg's Color Purple manages to have momentum, warmth and staying power all the same.
Variety found the film over-sentimental, writing, "there are some great scenes and great performances in The Color Purple, but it is not a great film. Steven Spielberg's turn at 'serious' film-making is marred in more than one place by overblown production that threatens to drown in its own emotions."
In addition, some critics alleged that the movie stereotyped black people in general and black men in particular, pointing to the fact that Spielberg, who is white, had directed a predominantly African American story.
About some criticism the movie received, Steven Spielberg: "Most of the criticism came from directors that felt that we had overlooked them, and that it should have been a black director telling a black story. That was the main criticism. The other criticism was that I had softened the book. I have always copped to that. I made the movie I wanted to make from Alice Walker’s book. There were certain things in the [lesbian] relationship between Shug Avery and Celie that were finely detailed in Alice’s book, that I didn’t feel could get a [PG-13] rating. And I was shy about it. In that sense, perhaps I was the wrong director to acquit some of the more sexually honest encounters between Shug and Celie, because I did soften those. I basically took something that was extremely erotic and very intentional, and I reduced it to a simple kiss. I got a lot of criticism for that."
Filmmaker Oliver Stone defended The Color Purple as "an excellent movie, and it was an attempt to deal with an issue that had been overlooked, and it wouldn't have been done if it hadn't been Spielberg. And it's not like everyone says, that he ruined the book. That's horseshit. Nobody was going to do the book. He made the book live again."
In 2004, Ebert included The Color Purple in his list of "Great Movies". He stated that "I can see its flaws more easily than when I named it the best film of 1985, but I can also understand why it moved me so deeply, and why the greatness of some films depends not on their perfection or logic, but on their heart."
The Color Purple was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Goldberg and Best Supporting Actress for both Avery and Winfrey. It failed to win any of them, tying the record set by 1977's The Turning Point for the most Oscar nominations without a single win. The film was also nominated for four Golden Globe Awards at the 43rd Golden Globe Awards, with Whoopi Goldberg winning Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.
Spielberg received his first Directors Guild of America Award at the 38th awards ceremony for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. He became the first director to win the award without even being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.
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