THE COLOR PURPLE
December 25, 2023 / Warner Bros.
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, H.E.R. , Halle Bailey, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Fantasia Barrino
Directed By: Blitz Bazawule
In this musical adaptation based on the book by Alice Walker, the story follows Celie (Fantasia Barrino), an African-American woman living in the South who has had two babies, each of which were taken away by her father (also the father of her babies) and given away. When her father sells her to Mister (Colman Domingo), he turns his sights on his other daughter, Nettie (Halle Berry), whom Mister wanted. When Nettie runs away and joins Celie, Mister allows her to stay — until she refuses his advances. The misogynistic Mister throws Nettie out, warning her never to return. The two sisters, who love each other, are heartbroken at having to be apart.
Celie, too meek to speak up for herself, spends years being mistreated by Mister. After finding a friend in performer Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), Celie gets closer to her dream of seeing her sister again.
Written By Darren
Rating 4.5 out of 5
The Color Purple is a triumphant celebration of love, life and music that presents a visionary new take on the beloved classic with dazzling musical numbers, powerhouse performances from the entire cast, and all the emotions of the source material that captures what made the original a timeless piece of cinema history.
When it was originally released back in 1985, The Color Purple instantly resonated with audiences while bringing to life Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize Winning novel of the same name, becoming both a box office and critical success. It was a turning point in director Steven Spielberg’s career, showcasing his versatility as a prestige director, having only done summer blockbuster films previously, and marked significant representation both in front of the camera and behind it for African Americans. Decades later, Walker’s story was adapted into a Broadway musical and has featured the likes of LaChenze, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jennifer Hudson and Cynthia Erivo in the main roles. Coming full circle, executive producers Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones have reunited to bring this cherished story back to the big screen in its musical format, bringing audiences a bold new take on this beloved story. Not only does this new version incorporate high energy, spectacle musical numbers throughout the film, with an incredible cast led by Fantasia Barrino, it enriches the story through the use of song, proving that this story is still as resonate today as it was back when it was first released, even though it will never replace Spielberg’s original.
If you have seen the original film, the musical version follows the same beats as we follow Celie’s life over decades, beginning with her childhood with her sister Nettie, her marriage to Albert “Mister” Johnson, her separation from Nettie, and bond that she forms with Shug Avery and Sofia. While the runtime of this musical version is similar to the original film, the plot is slightly condensed to make room for the musical numbers. It never diminishes the emotions of this beautiful story, keeping the focus on the sisterhood, friendship and love between our main female characters, but we spend less time with some plot points as the screenwriters have left time for the musical numbers, the reason this version of the film exists. At the same time, the film is not a straight adaptation of the Broadway musical, but instead taking elements from the Broadway musical, original film, and Walker’s novel to tell the beloved story in a new manner that audiences have yet to see. The depth to Walker's rich story is lost at times during the film as some elements are skimmed over, but then the plot elements which are kept intact are explored further, enriching their effect on the overall story, such as Mister’s redemption arc near the end of the film. It is simultaneously familiar and new, hitting all the major moments that viewers will expect of it, ensuring that this version of the film is every bit as emotionally moving as the original while telling the story through a new lens.
With director Blitz Bazawule’s background in music and directing Beyoncé’s Black Is King, it comes as no surprise that each musical number is an extravagant production, which is what every movie musical needs. The majority of the musical numbers are larger cast numbers, featuring many backup dancers that capture the energy and feel of a live Broadway production. Fatima Robinson’s choreography explodes across the screen with an infectious energy, the costume and set design only adds life to these moments, while Dan Lausten’s sweeping cinematography of these sequences captures the grand scale of every moment of singing and dancing. Some of the numbers feel like music videos, most notably Shug Avery’s big song “Push Da Button”, but with Bazawule’s background in music and Lausten’s cinematography which uses color, light and shadows to great effect, each musical number becomes a showstopping sequence that makes this film not just a musical, but a true spectacle in every sense of the word!
In terms of songs, the film has its fair share, giving a mix of songs from the Broadway musical, songs written for the original film, and ones written for this film adaptation. There is a range of songs, with some conveying developments in the plot such as the high energy “Miss Celie’s Pants”, energetic songs that are experienced by the characters in the film such as “Mysterious Ways”, as well as musical numbers that give us insight into the struggles and emotional state of the characters like Celie’s final solo “I’m Here”. Of the new songs, my favourite was Halle Bailey’s “Keep It Movin’”, which she also co -rote, that was not only catchy and upbeat, but gave a beautiful moment to showcase the bond of sisterhood between Celie and Nettie. Without question, the songs are catchy, but aside from a handful of them, there are not many that stand out to the audience after the film has finished, which is a minor downfall for this musical. They are so integrated into the story that there is no one song that dominates the others, that even with “Push Da Button”, “I’m Here”, “Keep It Movin’”, and “The Color Purple” being the songs that leap off the screen the most, the movie is missing that one memorable song that audiences will cling to when they think about this movie musical.
What you will remember walking out of this film is the sensational performances that can be experienced throughout the film. It comes as no surprise as the characters are timeless, complex and an actor’s dream in terms of a role to have, but the cast truly has outdone themselves. Leading the film is Fantasia Barrino as the adult version of Celie, and she gives a riveting performance. Barrino captures the timid, mischievous and passionate personality of Celie, in one scene giving an empowering performance before stripping it down to a raw vulnerability in the next. When it comes to the singing, Barrino’s voice soars high and delivers show stopping moments with songs like “I’m Here”, bringing this musical to life. It’s easily one of the strongest lead female performances of the year that very well could land Barrino in the Oscar race. Reprising her role from the Broadway musical as Sofia is Danielle Brooks, who is without question the standout of the film. Brooks steals the film every second she is on screen with a fiery spirit that captures the scrappiness to Sofia, but when her character arc takes a darker turn, there is a heartbreak that Brooks brings to the role that will leave you in tears. It’s a flashy performance, but one with an emotional resonance that makes this iteration of Sofia as memorable of a character as when Oprah Winfrey portrayed the character back in the original film, making Brooks one of the strongest contenders for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress this awards season.
As with the original film, the role of Shug Avery is pivotal to the entire film with its fair share of prominent screen time, and Taraji P. Henson is flawless. Easily capturing the spunk, spectacle and all encompassing personality that is Shug, there is not a second when Henson is on screen when you are not in awe of her. In her musical numbers, Henson dazzles with a captivating performance that brings to life this music star, but in her more intimate moments with Barrino’s Celie, Henson gives a beautiful performance that truly brings to life the theme of sisterhood in this film. While there is no doubt that everyone will be talking about Brooks as the most prominent supporting performance, Henson is every bit as exquisite as Brooks and deserves just as much recognition. While she has a small role, Halle Bailey is stunning as young Nettie with a free spirit and liveliness, continuing to prove that she is a true movie star. It’s a crucial performance that helps to create the pivotal relationship between Celie and Nettie which is the emotional core of the film; one that Bailey does with a grace and sweetness that sets the rest of the film up for success. The rest of the cast is equally as impressive with wonderful performances from Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, H.E.R., Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Jon Batiste, Aunjanue Ellis, Louis Gossett Jr., David Alan Grier, Deon Cole, Ciara, and Elizabeth Marvel, but this film belongs to the magnificent performances of Barrino, Brooks, Henson and Bailey.
If you’re not a fan of musicals, you are going to struggle with The Color Purple because it fully embraces its musical roots to deliver a showstopping spectacle of song and dance that we have not seen on the big screen in years. But, if you are a musical lover like myself, there is no doubt that The Color Purple is the must see movie event this holiday season for you. Full of truly incredible performances from a star studded cast led by Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson and Danielle Brooks, not only does this visionary new take on Alice Walker’s classic story breathe new life into this timeless tale of sisterhood, friendship and love for a new generation, The Color Purple is one of the best films of the year that is a truly remarkable spectacle at every turn that reminds you why movies need to be experienced on the big screen!