The much-anticipated musical adaption of The Color Purple movie dances into theaters on Christmas Day, and Woman’s World has the story on what to expect. Based on Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer-winning novel, the 1985 Oscar-nominated movie, and the Tony-winning Broadway production that ran from 2005 to 2008, the new film remains a coming-of-age tale centered on a Black woman who endures abuse, trauma and heartbreak in the South during the early 1900s.
While the deeply sorrowful and beautiful story has already left an indelible mark on America, the newly reimagined story of redemption celebrates Celie’s sisterhood with Shug Avery and Sofia and aims to bring joy and light to audiences this holiday season.
With Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, Scott Sanders, and Walker herself attached as producers, the new The Color Purple movie honors each of its predecessors but counts the novel as its bible. At the same time, screenwriter Marcus Gardley and director Blitz Bazawule bring new vision to the story – most notably via the addition of song and dance, magic realism, and a more nuanced take on the character Mister.
Here, Winfrey and The Color Purple cast and creative team discuss the newest incantation.
Oprah Winfrey introduces a new The Color Purple
Oprah Winfrey may be a powerhouse Hollywood player today, but she was still a local newswoman when she was cast as Sofia to Whoopi Goldberg’s Celie in The Color Purple. After the role earned her a 1985 Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, The Oprah Winfrey Show was born. Now — a network, a production company, and almost four decades later — Winfrey is thrilled to reintroduce the film to new and familiar audiences as a musical drama.
“Nothing means more to me,” Winfrey says. “I have a great sense of loyalty to the original Color Purple. That changed my life more than any other experience of my life. My affection and appreciation for that version remains, but this is a magically realized [version that takes us] inside Celie’s imagination.”
The Color Purple is an epic tale that follows Celie as she struggles with an abusive father, teenage pregnancy, and an abusive marriage. It is through her relationships with sexy Shug and seemingly unstoppable Sofia that she ultimately finds herself.
40 years after novel’s release, The Color Purple big screen musical honors this story again, but the 2023 film has a very different look and feel than the 1985 version.
“The singing, the dancing, the costumes,” previews Grammy-winning American Idol alum Fantasia Barrino, who returns to the role of Adult Celie after playing her on Broadway from 2007 to 2008. “The first movie will always and forever be a classic. You can’t touch it. The grit of the movie is what makes it so good. But we want to connect with the younger generation, and I think that we did a really good job doing that. It’s a bit different. Everything grows. Everything changes.”
The musical remake is not, however, just meant for the kids.
“It’s not your mama’s Color Purple… but your momma gonna love it!” Winfrey promises.
The new music and magic of The Color Purple
Amid all the darkness of surviving abuse, generational trauma and racial discrimination, 2023’s The Color Purple is fueled by song, dance and, most of all… hope.
“What I love about this version of the film is tapping into the joy,” says Taraji P. Henson, who plays Shug. “Blitz’ vision isn’t leaning on the sorrow and the pain and the trauma, but how Black people have been able to miraculously turn our trauma into joy.”
The music is an essential part of bringing Black joy to the screen in The Color Purple — and it also empowers the movie to sweep more deeply into its characters’ lows.
“When someone sings, there’s a heightened emotion that happens and you can really get to the core of very intimate feelings,” says Scott Sanders, the Emmy, Grammy, and Tony-winning producer who first brought The Color Purple to Broadway. “I felt like this is such an emotional story, such a heartfelt story, such a spiritual story that it would be ripe for adapting it in musical form.”
While the Broadway book of songs and choreography delivers on stage, the movie’s soundtrack is more cinematic. Fans of the stage musical will recognize updated versions of “Huckleberry Pie,” “What About Love,” and showstopper “Hell No!” as well as a few new additions.
“Blitz went in and killed the music,” Barinno raves. “He brought a 2023 swag to it that kids can relate to.”
That does not mean The Color Purple is a hip hop opera or rap musical ala Hamilton. “It’s jazz, it’s blues, it’s gospel,” Henson teases. “It’s the full gamut of the music back then, and then when we get to the end, we bring you up to date with some of the music of today. When you talk about Black culture, you can’t talk about it without music. You just can’t.”
As choreographed numbers aim to both deepen and brighten the emotional turns in The Color Purple, this newest incantation also dives into magical realism.
“Thanks to the stage musical, we found a way to give Celie’s inner world its own voice visually,” Bazawule teases. “So there’s a sense of magical realism that puts us all a little deeper inside Celie’s evolution.”
While these changes allow the story to soar in new ways, the creators always come back to the novel’s original arc.
“Because you can easily get off course trying to be abstract,” Bazawule explains. “Grounding the film in Alice’s brilliant arc made sure that anywhere we went, we could return to that arc. That’s what gave us our wings.”
Colman Domingo talks Mister’s redemption
In the new The Color Purple, Colman Domingo, who is also nominated for a Golden Globe for taking the lead in Rustin, plays the abuser at the center of this tale about female empowerment. While the 1985 version has been criticized for casting Danny Glover’s character as a two-dimensional villain, the 2023 movie aims to rectify this by digging deeper into Mister and his trauma.
“Mister is a very broken human being,” Domingo says. “He holds a lot of tragedy, and his actions cause a lot of our women to find their strength and courage. But he’s part of a system; he’s been broken by this world in many ways.”
While Mister would never commend his son Harpo for being so big-hearted and soft, he may just envy him for it — and ultimately, The Color Purple movie filmmakers make room for not only this abusive man’s redemption, but all of ours.
“They’ve zeroed in on it to make sure that he was complex and human, that you understood the source of his hurt and pain, and why he inflicts it upon our characters,” previews Colman. “That is a part of a larger theme of this [movie]: Even the worst humans can have redemption, there is a place for them in the community. They can have accountability and do better.”
How to watch The Color Purple, 2023
With a powerhouse Black cast that includes Tony-nominee Danielle Brooks and Fantasia Barrino reprising their Broadway roles, plus Taraji P. Henson, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, H.E.R., Halle Bailey, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, and Louis Gossett, Jr., Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Ciara, and Jon Batiste, The Color Purple is an important story about the African American experience — and a movie in which Black Americans may easily find themselves.
That said, its message of love, hope, and redemption remains universal.
“The story endures because for every woman or man who has suffered, who has been invisible, who has felt unseen and unvalued, this is their story of coming into yourself and coming into your own,” Winfrey says.
The Color Purple movie premieres on Christmas day in theaters only. After its theater run, The Color Purple will stream on Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max.
“The only way you’re going to get the full effect is to see it on the big screen – all the movement, the choreography and the song and dance,” Henson insists. “It’s such a family-oriented piece that you need to be with people – a group of people. And the best way to do that is in a theater!”
“To be a part of [The Color Purple] was epic for me,” Mann tells Woman’s World. “I’m doing the first part of the musical and this is the first time I’ve ever done dancing and singing. Normally it’s just singing for me but to be dancing it was amazing.”
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