HOLLYWOOD—I don’t recall the first time I saw the 1985 film “The Color Purple” all I remember is that I saw that movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg asking myself how in the hell did Goldberg NOT win the Best Actress Academy Award? I thought it was an absolute travesty and that might be a direct result of the AMPAS not having the diversity and breaking its ceiling when it comes to awarding accolades to thespians of color. Even more disturbing was the movie dominated the awards circuit at the time, I believe it earned 11 Oscar nominations and didn’t win a single award that night. Absolute travesty to say the least.
With that said, this new adaptation which touts a musical component to the drama is fun, but it is not the original. I would love to tell you a song or two that I recalled that I absolutely adored, but I can’t. The music is fun, but this is no “Chicago” or “Dreamgirls” where the music punches you in the gut and sticks with you. The songs are not bad; they just are not as memorable as one would hope. The 2023 version of “The Color Purple” absolutely delivers when it comes to the drama, but it is not as searing as the original because you’re not distracted by the song and dance.
That is the one issue I have with musicals, the realness of a person bursting out in song and dance after something devastating transpires is just not that realistic. Many of you may know the story already, but for those that don’t, it revolves around Celie portrayed by Phylicia Pearl Mpasi and “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino. Mpasi is stellar in the role as a young Celie, you feel her fear, her emotion, her fear as she endures countless horrors at the hands of her stepfather Alfonso, which results in her getting pregnant twice at a young age and losing the opportunity to raise her children.
Celie has a strong bond with her sister Nettie portrayed wonderfully by Halle Bailey. The two women are bonded by sisterhood and look out for one another, but it is apparent early on that Nettie is the beauty of the family and Celie is seen as the ugly duckling. This ultimately results in Celie being sold by her stepfather to Mister (Colman Domingo), a wretched man who has a penance for younger women, alcohol, abuse and remorse about where his life has left him. Domingo is solid in the role, but I couldn’t help but compare him to Danny Glover’s performance in the role, similar to Barrino attempting to outdo Goldberg. Those performances back in the 80’s were just so solid and riveting you couldn’t take your eyes off the screen.
However, if there is a character who shines it is Danielle Brooks as Sofia. She brings a charisma, a strength, and energy to Sofia that resonates with the audience. She is a star on the screen, and it absolutely shows as the female character that isn’t afraid to speak her mind no matter what the outcome may be. There are some searing scenes involving Sofia that just pierce through your soul as a viewer. Even though I know what is going to unfold with the character, it hits strong and that is a direct result of Brooks’ performance. Will Brooks earn a SAG nomination and Oscar nomination for her work? Without a doubt, she’s the standout in the movie, but another shining performance is Taraji P. Henson as Shug Avery.
Does her performance compare to Margaret Avery? Depends, there was a bit more subtly with Avery’s take on Shug that I thoroughly enjoyed, where Henson’s Shug has a bit more flair and stardom to her, however, it works. I loved that the writers played more into the romantic element between Shug and Celie compared to what was seen in the 1985 flick. I hate doing the compare and contrast element, but when you have a movie as iconic as “The Color Purple” there is not much else you can do. Barrino is solid and does exceptional as Celie, but when you look at her performance and Goldberg’s there is no comparison who knocks you out, the other just punches you in the face.
“The Color Purple” is indeed the one movie I’ve seen recently where the first act is solid, but each act after gets progressively better including the second and third act. With most movies you might have a strong first act, a terrible second act, and a lackluster third act. This movie gets better as it moves along and I had fun watching. There are also strong supporting performances by Corey Hawkins as Harpo, H.E.R. as Squeak, Louis Gossett Jr. as Ol’ Mister Johnson, Ciara, Jon Batiste, David Alan Grier, Tamela Mann, Deon Cole and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor.
“The Color Purple” tackles some very difficult subject matter and it’s not as kid friendly as some people think as you tackle child abuse, rape, sexuality, sexism, racism, misogyny and the treatment of Black women by Black men and America in general. There are some epic highs as we see Celie develop into the woman the audience wants her to become even though she endures horrors throughout the entire movie. Some of the iconic scenes from the original are done respectably well in this remake, but don’t deliver the same ump and conviction as the original, but when you have iconic lines like, “You told Harpo to beat me” or that infamous dinner scene, how can you top such. You really can’t, and it would have worked if something was different was delivered for the audience.
“The Color Purple” will bring the nostalgia of the classic with a breath of fresh air. However, it is hard to top a classic of that magnitude.