The Color Purple (film)

The Color Purple is a 1985 American epic coming-of-age period drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, 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 marked a turning point in his career as it was a departure from the summer blockbusters for which he had become known. It was also the first feature film directed by Spielberg for which John Williams did not compose the music, instead featuring a score by Quincy Jones, who also produced. The cast stars Whoopi Goldberg in her breakthrough role, with Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, Rae Dawn Chong, Willard Pugh, and Adolph Caesar.[2][3]

The Color Purple
The Color Purple poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
Directed bySteven Spielberg
Screenplay byMenno Meyjes
Based onThe Color Purple
by Alice Walker
Produced by
CinematographyAllen Daviau
Edited byMichael Kahn
Music byQuincy Jones
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • December 18, 1985 (1985-12-18)
Running time
153 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million
Box office$142 million

Filmed in Anson and Union counties in North Carolina,[4] 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.[5]

The film was a box office success, grossing $142 million against a budget of $15 million. The film received acclaim from critics, with particular praise going to its acting (especially Goldberg's performance), direction, screenplay, musical score, and production values; however, it was also criticized by some critics for being "over-sentimental" and "stereotypical". The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Goldberg, Best Supporting Actress for both Avery and Winfrey, and Best Adapted Screenplay, but did not achieve a single win, though Spielberg did not receive Best Director, holding the record for the film being the most nominations without nominated for his direction and without a win at the Academy Awards since The Turning Point (1977) at this point. It also received four Golden Globe Award nominations, with Whoopi Goldberg winning Best Actress in a Drama. Steven Spielberg received 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.


Black dress worn by Oprah Winfrey as Sofia in The Color Purple

In early 20th-century rural Georgia, Celie Harris is a teenage African-American girl who has lost two children by her abusive father. He gives her away as a wife to "Mister" Albert Johnson, who also abuses her, and his children mistreat her. Celie's loving younger sister, Nettie, runs away from the abusive father and seeks shelter with Celie. The sisters promise to write if they are separated. Mister attempts to sexually assault Nettie, and he kicks her out after she fights him off.

Years later, Celie is meek from abuse. Mister's son Harpo marries Sofia, and Celie is shocked to find her running a matriarchal household. Harpo attempts to overpower and strike Sofia, but he fails. Celie advises Harpo to beat Sofia. Sofia retaliates and confronts Celie, revealing her long history of abuse. She threatens to kill Harpo if he beats her again and tells Celie to do likewise to Mister. Harpo doesn't change, so Sofia leaves and takes their children.

Mister and Harpo bring home the ailing Shug Avery, a showgirl and Mister's long-time mistress. Celie, who has slowly developed a fondness for Shug through a photograph sent to Mister, is in awe of Shug's strong will. She nurses 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 jook joint. Shug tells Celie she's moving to Memphis, and Celie confides to Shug that Mister beats her. Shug tells Celie she's beautiful and that she loves her, and they kiss. Celie packs her things to follow Shug to Memphis but gets caught by Mister.

Meanwhile, Sofia has been imprisoned for striking the town's mayor after he slaps her. Years pass, and she, now a 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 by Ms. Millie after encountering Celie in town, but Ms. Millie recants her offer after panicking while trying to leave the yard and not being able to get the car in gear.

Shug returns to Celie and Mister's home with her new husband, Grady, in town on business. Grady and Mister become intoxicated while Shug checks the mailbox. She finds a letter from Celie's sister in Africa. Shug gives Celie the letter from Nettie, who tells her that she's working for a couple who adopted Celie's children. Celie and Shug realize that Mister has been hiding Celie's letters from Nettie. While he and Grady are out drinking, Shug and Celie search the house, finding a hidden compartment under the floorboards filled with dozens and dozens of Nettie's letters.

Engrossed in reading, Celie does not hear Mister's calls to shave him, and he beats her. Celie attempts to kill Mister with his straight razor, but Shug stops her. At a family gathering, Celie finally speaks up against Mister to the delight of Shug and Sofia. This fighting spirit prompts Harpo's new wife, Squeak, to stand up for herself as well. Shug and Grady drive away, taking Celie and Squeak with them.

Years later, Shug reunites with her father, who is a pastor, after years of not speaking because of the life path she chose. Mister is an old drunk and alone, and Harpo has made amends with Sofia; they now run the bar together, and Shug still performs there. Upon Celie's father's passing, she finally learns from Nettie's letters he wasn't their biological father after all. When their mother passed, "his" property was legally inherited by Celie and Nettie. So, she receives the home and shop that had belonged to her father.

Celie begins to operate a tailor shop. Mister receives a letter from Nettie addressed to Celie, takes money from his secret stash, and arranges for Nettie, her husband, and Celie's children to return to the U.S. from Africa, where they had been living. While Mister watches from a distance, Celie, Nettie, and Celie's children reunite, and the two sisters bond over a hand-clapping game from their early days.




Alice Walker was initially reluctant to sell the film rights to her novel, due to Hollywood's portrayal of female and African-American characters. She only agreed to executive producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber's offer after consulting with friends, who agreed the only way to improve representation of minorities was to work within the system.[6] Walker's contract stipulated that she would serve as project consultant and that 50% of the production team, aside from the cast, would be African American, female, or "people of the Third World."[6] Walker wrote an initial screenplay draft, but was replaced by Dutch-born writer Menno Meyjes, under the proviso that she be given final script approval. Walker worked as an uncredited script doctor, and coached actors in their use of a Southern African-American Vernacular English dialect.

Music mogul Quincy Jones, whose only prior film experience was as a composer, served as producer and approached Steven Spielberg to direct. Spielberg was initially reluctant to take the job, feeling his knowledge of the deep South was inadequate and that the film should be directed by someone of color. Walker was likewise skeptical, but was convinced otherwise after watching E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Spielberg waived his usual $15 million salary in lieu of the Directors Guild of America minimum of $40,000.[6] He chose to play down the lesbian subtext between Celie and Shug, a decision he later regretted.


Whoopi Goldberg was a relatively-unknown stand-up comic when she was cast as Celie Harris.

Rather than cast established stars, Walker sought out lesser-known actors to play the principal roles, since their rise from obscurity represented the experience of characters in her novels.[6] Whoopi Goldberg was a stand-up comedian whose only prior film role was in 1982 the avant-garde film Citizen: I'm Not Losing My Mind, I'm Giving It Away. Oprah Winfrey was a radio and television host without prior acting experience, who was hired at Jones' insistence.[7] After lobbying producers for the part, 29-year-old Goldberg was personally-selected by Walker after she saw her stand-up.[6] Goldberg's audition for Spielberg, where both Jones and Michael Jackson were present, saw her perform a routine involving a stoned E.T. being arrested for drug possession.[8]

Other cast members, such as Danny Glover, Adolph Caesar, and Carl Anderson; were predominantly stage performers. Akosua Busia was a graduate of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and the daughter of Ghanaian prime minister Kofi Abrefa Busia. Goldberg's real-life daughter Alex Martin has a minor role as one of the children in the Easter sequence.[9]

Margaret Avery was a veteran actress who'd previously won an NAACP Image Award for the made-for-television film Louis Armstrong – Chicago Style. Spielberg had pursued singers Chaka Khan and Tina Turner[10] for the part of Shug, but both turned it down.[11] Patti LaBelle and Sheryl Lee Ralph also auditioned, and Phyllis Hyman was considered. Though Avery had prior musical experience, her singing voice was dubbed by Táta Vega.


While the novel was based on Walker's childhood home of Eatonton, Georgia, the film was shot predominantly in Anson and Union counties in North Carolina during the summer months.[4] Sets were constructed at an antebellum-era plantation outside Wadesboro, while the town of Marshville had its paved roads covered in mud and clay to match the early 20th-century setting. The church was a real, 60-year-old Baptist chapel that was moved piece-by-piece from its original location. Due to the summer heat, the winter sequences were shot with fabricated snow. Additional scenes were filmed on the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot, and a second unit led by Frank Marshall traveled to Kenya to shoot scenes in Nairobi and in the Maasai regions.[6]

Spielberg encouraged both Goldberg and Winfrey to ad lib during filming, including Sofia's speech at the dinner table. Quincy Jones insistence on giving more dialogue to Winfrey sparked an apparent feud between her and Goldberg that lasted several years afterwards.[12][13]


The Color Purple's film score was written by Quincy Jones, the first feature film directed by Spielberg for which John Williams did not compose the music. The score combines elements of classical and period jazz, blues, and gospel, and features several popular songs of the era. The track Miss Celie's Blues (Sister), performed in the film by the character Shug (Averg; dubbed by Táta Vega), later gained popularity as a concert piece.

Due to his dual responsibilities as both producer and composer, Jones delegated many of the tasks to a team of eleven other musicians and arrangers. This led to a dispute during the Academy Awards over the nominees for Best Original Score. While Jones is the sole credited composer of the film, the nomination lists all twelve musicians (Jones, Chris Boardman, Jorge Calandrelli, Andraé Crouch, Jack Hayes, Jerry Hey, Randy Kerber, Jeremy Lubbock, Joel Rosenbaum, Caiphus Semenya, Fred Steiner and Rod Temperton).


The film premiered on December 18, 1985, and went on general release on February 7, 1986.[14] The Color Purple was shown at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival as a non-competing title.[15]


Box officeEdit

The Color Purple was a success at the box office, staying in U.S. theaters for 21 weeks,[14] and grossing over $142 million worldwide.[16] In terms of box office income, it ranked as the No. 1 rated PG-13 film released in 1985, and No. 4 overall.[14]

Critical responseEdit

The Color Purple 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 81% based on reviews from 31 critics, with an average score of 6.86/10. The website's critical consensus states: "It might have been better served by a filmmaker with a deeper connection to the source material, but The Color Purple remains a worthy, well-acted adaptation of Alice Walker's classic novel."[18] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 78 out of 100, based on seven critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[19]

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.[20]

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."[21]

The New York Times film critic Janet Maslin noted the film's divergence from Walker's book, but made the case that this shift works:

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.[22]

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."[23]

In addition, some critics alleged that the movie stereotyped black people in general[24] and black men in particular,[25] pointing to the fact that Spielberg, who is white, had directed a predominantly African American story.[26]

About some criticism the movie received, Steven Spielberg: "Most of the criticism came from directors [who] 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."[27]

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."[28]

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."[29]


The Color Purple was nominated for 11 Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Actress for Goldberg and Best Supporting Actress for both Avery and Winfrey).[30] 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.[25]

Steven 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.

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[31] Best Picture Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Quincy Jones Nominated
Best Actress Whoopi Goldberg Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Margaret Avery Nominated
Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Menno Meyjes Nominated
Best Art Direction J. Michael Riva, Bo Welch and Linda DeScenna Nominated
Best Cinematography Allen Daviau Nominated
Best Costume Design Aggie Guerard Rodgers Nominated
Best Makeup Ken Chase Nominated
Best Original Score Chris Boardman, Jorge Calandrelli, Andraé Crouch, Jack Hayes, Jerry Hey, Quincy Jones,
Randy Kerber, Jeremy Lubbock, Joel Rosenbaum, Caiphus Semenya, Fred Steiner and Rod Temperton
Best Original Song "Miss Celie's Blues" – Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton and Lionel Richie Nominated
All Def Movie Awards Most Quoted Movie Nominated
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Top Box Office Films Chris Boardman, Jorge Calandrelli, Andraé Crouch, Jack Hayes, Quincy Jones, Joel Rosenbaum, Fred Steiner and
Rod Temperton
Black Movie Awards Classic Cinema Hall of Fame Won
Blue Ribbon Awards Best Foreign Film Steven Spielberg Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Menno Meyjes Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography Allen Daviau Nominated
Casting Society of America Awards Best Casting for Feature Film – Drama Reuben Cannon Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Steven Spielberg Won
Golden Globe Awards[32] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Whoopi Goldberg Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Steven Spielberg Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Quincy Jones Nominated
Heartland Film Festival Truly Moving Picture Steven Spielberg Won
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Whoopi Goldberg Runner-up
Best Supporting Actress Oprah Winfrey Runner-up
New Generation Award Whoopi Goldberg Runner-up
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Motion Picture Won
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Whoopi Goldberg Won
National Board of Review Awards Best Film Won
Top Ten Films Won
Best Actress Whoopi Goldberg Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Menno Meyjes Nominated

Musical film remakeEdit

On November 2, 2018, it was announced that a film adaptation of the 2005 stage musical version was in development.[33] Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones returned to co-produce this version, alongside the stage musical's producers Scott Sanders and Oprah Winfrey. On August 25, 2020, it was announced that Marcus Gardley will pen the screenplay and Black is King's Blitz Bazawule will direct.[34][35][36] On December 23, 2020, it was announced that the film would be released on December 20, 2023, and that Alice Walker, Rebecca Walker, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Carla Gardini, and Mara Jacobs will executive produce the film.[37] H.E.R. and Corey Hawkins were cast in August 2021.[38]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Color Purple (15)". British Board of Film Classification. April 10, 1986. Retrieved March 16, 2016.
  2. ^ Stewart, Robert W. (March 7, 1986). "Adolph Caesar: Fatal Heart Attack Fells Actor on Set". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  3. ^ Benke, Richard (March 7, 1986). "Adolph Caesar Dead of a Heart Attack at Age 52". AP News. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
  4. ^ a b "The Color Purple filming locations". The 80s Movie Rewind. Retrieved January 17, 2010.
  5. ^ Corliss, Richard (December 23, 1985). "Cinema: The Three Faces of Steve the Color Purple". Time. Archived from the original on June 4, 2008. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "AFI|Catalog". Retrieved May 29, 2021.
  7. ^ Scott, Walter (September 20, 2018). "The Remarkable Quincy Jones: 5 Icons Whose Lives Where Changed by Jones". Parade: Entertainment, Recipes, Health, Life, Holidays. Retrieved June 1, 2021.
  8. ^ "Whoopi Goldberg Recalls Her "Color Purple" Audition – The Global Herald". Retrieved May 29, 2021.
  9. ^ "15 Lesser-Known Facts About Whoopi Goldberg's Daughter, Alex Martin". TheThings. April 4, 2020. Retrieved June 1, 2021.
  10. ^ Casey Kasem's American Top 40 from September 28th, 1985
  11. ^ Robertson, Nan (February 13, 1986). "ACTRESSES' VARIED ROADS TO 'THE COLOR PURPLE'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
  12. ^ "Whoopi Goldberg: Then and Now". Retrieved May 30, 2021.
  13. ^ "Oprah Winfrey Addresses Longtime Beef With Whoopi Goldberg During "Color Purple" Reunion". Praise Philly. November 13, 2010. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
  14. ^ a b c "The Color Purple". Box Office Mojo. Accessed December 9, 2011.
  15. ^ "The Color Purple". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
  16. ^ Matthews, Jack (December 25, 1985). "A Strong Start for 'Color Purple' in Christmas Box Office Race". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  17. ^ "Alice Walker". Desert Island Discs. May 19, 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  18. ^ "The Color Purple (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  19. ^ "The Color Purple Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  20. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 20, 1985). "The Color Purple". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  21. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 20, 1985). "Color Purple: Powerful, Daring, Sweetly Uplifting". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  22. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 18, 1985). "Film: 'The Color Purple,' from Steven Spielberg". The New York Times. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  23. ^ "The Color Purple". Variety. December 31, 1984. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  24. ^ Clegg II, Legrand H.(Chairman, Coalition Against Black Exploitation, Compton) (February 16, 1986). "Bad Black Roles In 'Purple'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 30, 2010.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ a b Friendly, David T. (March 27, 1986). "Academy Hits Racism Accusation". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 5, 2021. Retrieved September 5, 2021.
  26. ^ Matthews, Jack (January 31, 1986). "3 'Color Purple' Actresses Talk About Its Impact". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  27. ^ Breznican, Anthony (December 2, 2011). "Steven Spielberg: The EW interview". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
  28. ^ Cooper, Marc. Oliver Stone interview from Playboy Magazine (1988), in Stone, Oliver and Silet, Charles L.P., editors. Oliver Stone—Interviews, University Press of Mississippi (2006), p. 87.
  29. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 28, 2004). "The Color Purple Movie Review (1985)". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  30. ^ "'Out of Africa' Ties as Oscar Nominees: 11 Citations; Spielberg Not Named". Los Angeles Times. February 5, 1986. Archived from the original on September 5, 2021. Retrieved September 5, 2021.
  31. ^ "The 58th Academy Awards │ 1986". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on September 5, 2021. Retrieved September 5, 2021.
  32. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1986 Golden Globes". Retrieved September 16, 2018.
  33. ^ McPhee, Ryan (November 2, 2018). "Film Adaptation of The Color Purple Musical in Development". Playbill.
  34. ^ Hempstead, Pete (September 2, 2020). "Crossword: Get Ready for The Color Purple Movie Musical With This Week's Puzzle". TheaterMania.
  35. ^ "Ghana's Blitz the Ambassador to direct Warner Bros' 'The Colour Purple'". GhanaWeb. August 26, 2020.
  36. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 24, 2020). "'The Color Purple' Feature Musical: 'Black Is King's Blitz Bazawule Set To Direct". Deadline.
  37. ^ Rubin, Rebecca (December 23, 2020). "Warner Bros. to Release 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Prequel and 'The Color Purple' Musical in Theaters in 2023". Variety. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  38. ^ Galuppo, Mia (August 27, 2021). "H.E.R. to Make Acting Debut in 'The Color Purple' Movie Musical (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 1, 2021.

Further readingEdit

  • Tibbetts, John C., and James M. Welsh, eds. The Encyclopedia of Novels into Film (2nd ed. 2005) pp 67–68.

External linksEdit