The Color Purple has resonated with audiences for over 40 years across various mediums, beginning with Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel. It tells the inspirational story of Celie, a woman in early 20th century Georgia who perseveres through abusive circumstances to gain empowerment and reunite with lost loved ones. Director Blitz Bazawule brings this beloved narrative to soaring new heights with his movie musical adaptation.
Starring American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino as the elder Celie, the film follows her arduous journey from terrified teenager to confident woman. After being separated from her dear sister Nettie, Celie is forced into a marriage with the cruel Mister, played by an effectively smoldering Colman Domingo. Her spirit remains unbroken, however, thanks to bonds formed with Mister’s son’s strong-willed wife Sofia (brought to feisty life by Tony winner Danielle Brooks) and blues icon Shug Avery (played with equal parts swagger and vulnerability by Taraji P. Henson).
Bazawule’s The Color Purple musicalizes Celie’s hardships, hopes, and triumphs. His reverent adaptation pays homage to both Walker’s novel and Steven Spielberg’s 1985 Oscar-nominated film while carving out its own unique space. Vibrant and poignant by turns, it translates Celie’s timeless story of oppression and liberation into a sweeping movie musical event. Let’s explore why this newest telling strikes all the right chords.
The Winding Path to Freedom
Bazawule’s The Color Purple spans decades as it traces Celie’s circuitous road from terrified girl to self-assured woman. We first meet teen Celie (affectingly portrayed by young talent Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) as she gives birth to her second child, the result of rape by her abusive father Alphonso. He cruelly separates Celie from both children and her beloved sister Nettie (played by soulful singer Halle Bailey).
When the outwardly charming Mister (Colman Domingo) comes seeking a wife, Alphonso callously gives him Celie. She soon finds that life with her new husband is no refuge, as he subjects her to physical torment, emotional manipulation, and isolation from the outside world.
In Mister’s orbit, however, Celie forms a close bond with his son’s headstrong wife Sofia (Danielle Brooks). This give-no-quarter powerhouse becomes a source of strength and inspiration. The same proves true of sultry lounge singer Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), Mister’s on-again-off-again mistress. Though initially cruel, Shug develops an intimate connection with Celie that helps give her the courage to leave Mister.
Over the decades we see Fantasia Barrino’s Celie grow from terrified girl to resolute woman. Though she continues to long for her long-lost Nettie, the support of other strong female allies lights her path to empowerment. When serendipitous twists of fate ultimately facilitate an emotional reunion, it captures both the randomness of life and The Color Purple’s core theme: the enduring power of sisterly bonds.
Standout Turns Bring Beloved Characters to Life
The Color Purple thrives on the strength of its stellar cast, led by a trio of powerful women putting their singular stamps on iconic roles. Chief among them is Fantasia Barrino, the American Idol winner who earned raves as Celie on Broadway. She channels both fragility and quiet inner strength as the central character, her scratchy, soulful vocals laying bare Celie’s anguish. We feel Barrino’s connection to this long-suffering character in every nuanced glance and soaring note.
Equally mesmerizing is Danielle Brooks as Sofia, reprising her Tony-nominated Broadway performance. Rightfully earning comparisons to Oprah Winfrey’s original big-screen Sofia, Brooks storms through the film as a righteous lightning bolt. Her lively persona and booming voice command attention during roof-raising numbers like “Hell No!”, and she movingly conveys Sofia’s essence – that of a proud, defiant spirit tested but never broken.
Rounding out the principal trio is Taraji P. Henson as lounge singer Shug Avery. What her portrayal may lack in vocal prowess, she makes up for in slinky charm and confidence. Yet Henson also lets Shug’s insecurities peek through this diva armor at critical moments. Additional standouts include Colman Domingo as a smoldering personification of toxic masculinity in his role as Mister, and young Halle Bailey evocatively capturing the innocence of youth as Nettie.
While the marquee trio propels the film, the entire ensemble brings passion and polish to their performances. They ensure Alice Walker’s treasured characters not only live on, but have space to grow into fully-realized people under a fresh spotlight.
Experience the Heartwarming Magic of Waitress: The Musical: Immerse yourself in the uplifting story of Jenna Hunterson in this Broadway sensation. Discover our in-depth review of Waitress: The Musical and see how Sara Bareilles brings this charming tale to life.
Showstopping Songs Elevate Emotion
While The Color Purple boasts compelling dramatic performances, its musical interludes provide truly transcendent moments. Soaring solos like “I’m Here” and “Dear God – Shug” lay protagonists’ innermost hopes and torments bare. The aptly-named showstopper “Hell No!” lets Sofia defiantly proclaim she won’t be pushed around, her booming refrain inspiring cheers.
These powerful compositions spring from the musical’s Tony-nominated score, augmented by soul-stirring new tunes. They further illuminate the lead trio’s vocal brilliance. Fantasia Barrino’s scratchy, melismatic wails on the climactic “I’m Here” will elicit goosebumps, while Danielle Brooks breezily spars with lyrics on the light-stepping “Miss Celie’s Pants.” The musical sequences utilize playful effects and imagery as well -closing number “The Color Purple” sees Celie joyfully frolicking on a giant record player.
While dramatic performances engage viewers’ brains, the musical showpieces speak straight to our hearts. These heart-on-sleeve arias articulate feelings too profound for mere words. Allowing characters to emote through song permits heightened avenues to process trauma, celebrate sisterhood, and access catharsis. The Color Purple harnessing its source Broadway material reminds us of music’s unmatched capacity to uplift weary souls – both onscreen characters’, and our own.
Themes of Sisterhood and Liberation Simplified, Not Diminished
While The Color Purple spans epochs and evolutions, its core has always been the bonds between women. Bazawule’s version continues centering resilience and solidarity in the face of oppression. Celie, Sofia, and Shug lift each other up when abusive men try dragging them down, their sisterly support the linchpin to overcoming adversity.
The musical format streamlines Walker’s winding epic into its most essential beats. Social nuances like queerness and racial violence are downplayed, but without losing sight of Celie’s through-line toward actualization. What we get is a focused celebration of that journey – how interdependence and inner strength can help one find their voice and place after years adrift.
The accelerated pace and fantastical flourishes, like a lustily-sung ballad while bathing a glamorous new friend, enhance the musical’s spirit over strict narrative fidelity. But those seeking a philosophically dense character study may feel dimensions lacking. We spend minimal time dwelling on psychological complexities when another soaring refrain could convey the same sentiment.
Ultimately this adaptation captures The Color Purple’s enduring resonance, even if not matching the novel’s sprawl. When the sisters find each other in the closing reprise of the title song, tears flow not because we’ve pored over decades of repressed thoughts, but due to the swelling orchestral rush of hard-earned liberation. The song’s crescendo carries Celie – and viewers – blissfully aloft after a condensed yet still profound emotional journey.
Technical Polish and Pizazz
From an aesthetic standpoint, The Color Purple pops with visual splendor. Cinematographer Daniel Laustsen bathes Georgia cotton fields and rustic homesteads in warm honeyed hues and lush green, immediately rooting us in the early 1900s South. Dynamic camerawork keeps pace once the music starts, gliding and panning wildly to capture high-energy choreography.
These snappy, kinetic elements sometimes work against more poignant moments though. Emotional conversations will suddenly feature distracting spins, preventing nuances from landing. The focus feels split between enhancing musical sequences’ pizzazz and nurturing narrative scenes’ intimacy.
Still, the technical craftsmanship shines whether accompanying sweeping ballads or dialogue exchanges on creaky front porches. Rachel Morrison’s detailed production design in particular deserves praise for fully realizing turn-of-the-century rural Black communities, from lived-in shacks to rollicking juke joints. And artful lighting choices compound the visual potency, whether via striking silhouettes, or Shug coyly enveloped in pillowy soft focus.
While the restless camerawork might frustrate those seeking stillness, it ultimately echoes The Color Purple’s themes. Much as with Celie, Sofia, Nettie, and Shug – these women contain multitudes within dynamic exteriors. So too does Bazawule’s film, each scene technologically polished yet emotionally textured underneath.
A Crowd-Pleasing Tribute to An Indelible Story
In translating The Color Purple’s beloved source material to a vibrant movie musical, Blitz Bazawule confronted high expectations and nitpicky fans. His adaptation lightens narrative complexities and races through decades in minutes, preventing complete immersion. Yet it exquisitely captures Alice Walker’s timeless essence – how compassion and courage can redeem life’s cruelest blows.
Bazawule makes this enduring story palatable for mainstream crowds, many experiencing Celie’s journey for the first time. Wholly committed performances and potent musical sequences provide accessible entry points into weighty themes. And by spotlighting Black stories onscreen as audiences crave representation and catharsis, this adaptation’s existence alone has social significance.
The Color Purple remains a story centered first and foremost on Black women’s solidarity and inner light – how they rescue their souls from society’s efforts to marginalize them. In songs of hope and numbers of praise, Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson lift both Celie’s spirit and our own. Their stellar incarnations inspire laughter and tears, redemption and resolve.
The Color Purple makes clear that stories like Celie’s will resonate eternally, regardless of interpreter. Though perhaps lighter on substance than prior versions, the musical nonetheless serves up spirit and optimism in spades. Let it wash over you, and its closing refrains send your heart aloft too.
The Color Purple
The Color Purple remains an indelible story of adversity overcome through perseverance and sisterhood. This long-awaited movie musical adaptation may streamline dense source material, but still captures those resonant core themes. Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks and Taraji P. Henson lift both spirits on screen and in audiences with their soul-baring performances. Their acting and stellar vocals will make you laugh, cry, and walk out of the theater feeling capable of conquering anything, as long as you have love by your side.
- Powerful lead performances from Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, and Taraji P. Henson
- Soaring musical numbers showcase vocal talents
- Excellent adaptation of acclaimed Broadway source material
- Beautiful cinematography and production design
- Resonant themes of perseverance and sisterhood
- Streamlined plot lacks depth in some areas
- Pacing feels rushed at times
- Camerawork can feel distracting or detached