‘The Color Purple’: Fantasia Barrino headlines new movie musical
Fantasia Barrino, Daniel Brooks and Taraji P. Henson star in The Color Purple, a musical based on the Broadway adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel.
Spoiler alert! The following contains basic details about The Color Purple (currently in theaters) the movie musical.
Each generation gets its own “purple color”.
The story, spanning decades, follows a black woman named Celie who overcomes trauma, finds love and learns to forgive. Steven Spielberg directed the 1985 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, which was adapted from Alice Walker’s 1982 novel. A Broadway musical opened in New York in 2005 and was revived in 2015 with Cynthia Erivo.
The latest iteration is a movie musical, “The Color Purple,” starring “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino as Celie. The film is not a strict recreation of the stage show, which was almost entirely sung. In fact, nearly two dozen Broadway songs are missing from the new film, replaced with either spoken dialogue or fresh tunes.
“My intention was never to simply remake the Broadway play,” says director Blitz Bazavule. “It was more about asking, ‘What new could we bring to this brilliant canon?'”
Bazavule and screenwriter Marcus Gardley take us through other big changes from previous versions.
There’s no ambiguity about Shug and Celie’s romance in the new ‘Color Purple’
Spielberg’s film was criticized for toning down the sexual encounters between Celie and nightclub singer Shug Avery, depicting only one kiss. Gardley fixes this with scenes of them waking up in bed together and Celie (Barrino) fantasizing about a picture of Shug (Taraji P. Henson). They also share a passionate kiss after the duet “What About Love?”, in which they dream of being Hollywood stars dancing in each other’s arms.
“It depicts a world where they could be together,” says Gardley. “That relationship is at the heart of this story, and I hope queer audiences feel like we’ve done them justice.”
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Halle Bailey’s Nettie gets a playful new song
The film has several new songs, including ones about young Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) and her sister Nettie (Halley Bailey). “She Be Mine,” which was cut from the Broadway show, unfolds in Celie’s mind as she longs for her two children, who were taken from her at birth. “This is the first time we know what she’s thinking,” says Gardley. “She’s not quiet—she actually survives through her imagination.”
“Keep It Movin’,” which Bailey co-wrote in the film, is an upbeat anthem the sisters sing before being separated by Celie’s abusive husband Mister (Coleman Domingo). “There’s a lot of tragedy in the movie at that point, and we wanted to bring in some levity,” says Gardley. “This is the last moment these sisters have before Nettie is (sent away). We wanted to portray the love they feel for each other.”
“Miss Celie’s Blues” is brought back from the original film
Another number that has been restored is “Miss Celie’s Blues,” which was included in Spielberg’s film but was not included in the Broadway musical. In the original film, Shug performs the song in a jukebox to cheer Celie up and remind her of her worth. She sings it later in the new film, at a parlor party celebrating Celie’s newfound freedom from Mister.
Quincy Jones, who co-wrote the song and produced both films, fought to restore the Oscar-nominated tune. “He felt you couldn’t do ‘The Color Purple’ without that song,” says Gardley. “One of my challenges was how do we reframe the song properly and make it a more intimate moment between Celie and Shug?”
2023’s Color Purple also recreates another classic scene from Steven Spielberg’s film
Near the end of the original film, Shug walks into church singing “Maybe God Is Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’,” telling his estranged pastor father, “See, Dad? Sinners have souls too.” Although it was cut from the Broadway show, a new version of the scene appears in Bazawule’s film, with a gentle duet of the song between Shug and her father (David Alan Grier).
“For many people, this is the most important scene in a Spielberg film,” says Gardley. “I wanted to give them that scene back. Also, she completes Shug’s journey. This movie is so much about forgiveness.”
The Mister is not such a one-dimensional villain in the new film
Mister’s redemptive arc also gets some added nuance. More screen time is devoted to Mister coming to terms with his appalling treatment of Celie. He apologizes to her and raises money so that Celie and Nettie’s grown children can return home from Africa. The film doesn’t excuse Mister’s actions, of course, but it tries to understand what made him so hateful.
“Once we put the banjo in his hand, you could see that he always had dreams that would never be fulfilled,” Bazavule says. “When he’s drunk, he says, ‘I could have been in Shakespeare!'” To me, that sums it up. It’s a bunch of “could have been, should have been” for him. Because he is hurt, he hurts others.”
“I’m Here” begins differently than the Broadway show
The most famous song from the musical is easily “I’m Here,” Celie’s powerful anthem about learning to love herself. The set-up of the number is slightly different from the musical: on stage, Celie is heartbroken by Shug and begins to sing “I don’t need you to love me”. But this scene and the text were cut from the new movie. Instead, the song becomes more about Celie wishing for her family to return home.
“Being neglected (by a lover) is a good place to start such a moment, but I felt it needed a deeper meaning for Celie,” Bazavule says. “Nothing could be more profound for her than the separation of her sister and her children. I found that to be a much stronger starting point.”
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