The Color Purple (1985)

I reThe Color Purple (1985)member seeing The Color Purple (1985) a good few years ago, not really understanding it, leaning more towards slavery in my thinking. Which I know was wrong. With the release of 12 Years a Slave (2013) which made me want to revisit this much forgotten and overlooked film for me. So now having made the time to revisit this beautiful film I have come away with a better understanding of what it’s all about.

In short its a fight for a woman to be themselves in spite of the men in their life. Of course the focus is on Whoopi Goldberg‘s Celie who at a young age is arranged to marry Albert (Danny Glover) who is more interested in her younger sister Nettie who is sadly pushed out of her sisters life. For the most part it is about Celie and her fight for respect in a home of domestic violence and servitude under a man who sees her only as a slave in the house and bedroom. She seems forever innocent in a life that is only bleak and depressing. It’s the other women in her life that allow her to see the light.

Her first is her sister Nettie (Akosua Busia) who is more just a friend who opens he eyes to the power of reading. It maybe just fun at first, yet would forever hold her back if not for those moments of joy in the kitchen. Soon pushed out by Albert who dominated their lives. It’s heartbreaking and gut-wrenching when the two are separated physically but never emotionally.

It’s the arrival of Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), the lover interest of Albert’s oldest son Harpo (Willard E. Pugh) a fiery independent woman who won’t take any s*** from anyone, a lot to handle to say the least. Proving too much to handle for the young man who marries her. She acts both saws some light relief for a while, showing that a woman in a black mans world can be just as strong, for a time at least.

However it’s the arrival of the much talked about Shug Avery (Margaret Avery) the small time singer who holds the real affections for Albert who begins to soften in her presence. Making Celie’s life bearable for a time, we see the man struggle to comedic effect, the roles are almost reversed, allow her to see what is going in her own life. Avery becomes Celie’s champion, supporting her, giving her hope, allowing her to show her bright smile. Even Avery has her own demons, in the form of her reverend father who has turned his back on the once gospel singer. Wanting to reconnect with him, is a battle that will go on for some time.

Whilst Sofia her life is about to take a bad turn after a scuffle with the law sees her become subdued and employed as a servant to a rich white family. No longer is she the outspoken woman we saw earlier, a pale shadow of her former self, carrying the scars of her time in prison. We see the white woman Corrine (Susan Beaubian) playing a dumb southerner, an image that is usually portrayed by the African-American in the Deep South. 

The transformation of the women is gradual and triumphant, each helping the others out to rise from their oppressive lives. It’s Shug’s influence that sees Celie grow in strength, standing up to Albert who has dominated her all her life. Both comedic and rewarding to watch showing Goldberg at her comedic best, giving it to him with an audience who draw strength from her courage as the mouse grows into a woman.

A powerful film that doesn’t out stay its welcome. That on the surface could be a black film, being more of a woman’s filmswhich being a guy is not my usual bag really. Both depressingly dark at times as we see women beaten both mentally and physically, separated and unable to express themselves. A need to be free and themselves above it all. Steven Spielberg once again leaves his blockbuster style at the door to give is an emotional thought-provoking film that never fails to touch the audience. Theres little schmaltz here, more sensitive and thoughtful, a drama that he is capable of without all the wonder of other films that he’s known for.

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