Although the novel The Color Purple by Alice Walker was written in 1982 and set in the first half of the 20th century, its message of resilience and forgiveness may have never been more relevant.
Its newest iteration as a musical drama, arriving in theaters on Dec. 25, highlights these themes while artistically portraying the pain and joy the characters experience through music.
First adapted into a movie in 1985, The Color Purple was also adapted into a Broadway musical in 2005 and won several Tony Awards.
The new film, this time directed by Blitz Bazawule, is an adaptation of the musical.
At a virtual college roundtable interview through Warner Bros., The Heights spoke to the director and cast members of The Color Purple.
Because The Color Purple has had so many different adaptations, the new movie took inspiration from influential actors and choices made in past productions.
Bazawule discussed having Oprah Winfrey on set. Winfrey, who played one of the leading characters, Sofia, in the 1985 movie, was a producer of the new movie.
“She had already kind of given us her blessing by being a part of the production team,” Bazawule said. “So it was very helpful. It gave us the confidence to say, ‘yes, we are contributing to this canon, and we will also find our place in it.’”
Sofia is the friend and confidant of the movie’s main character, Celie. Winfrey’s character is bold and uncompromising, leaving big shoes to fill with her original portrayal of Sofia.
Danielle Brooks, who played Sofia on the 2005 Broadway version and will play the same character in the 2023 film, discussed how her transition to playing Sofia in the film version was challenging because of Winfrey’s legacy.
“One would think that I wasn’t intimidated because I had done this for a year on Broadway,” Brooks said. “But that is not the case, because Miss Oprah was on set a lot, and for most of all of the iconic parts that she left us with. So I really had to work through that and get out of my own way during that time.”
The hardship of overcoming personal struggles is a central theme in The Color Purple. Celie’s journey from a childhood of abuse to her powerful role as a friend, woman, and mother showcases this personal transformation. Phylicia Pearl Mpasi plays a young Celie and talked about taking lessons from Celie’s life into her own.
“She’s forced me to kind of look at myself, and look at some old wounds, and kind of investigate why I thought of myself in a certain way,” Mpasi said. “I always want to walk through earth like her because she really is the kind of person who’s going to make the world a better place by the little things she does every day.”
Mpasi also touched on the legacy she hopes the film will have for audiences, as a retelling of a beloved story through a new lens.
Although the film deals with difficult subjects like racism, sexual abuse, and betrayal of trust, she thinks modern viewers can take lessons from these and fight against similar injustices today.
“I think we, as humans, often have to struggle, and we learn by trial and error,” Mpasi said. “I’m so excited for this generation because I feel like y’all get it. You all kind of see what’s happening before it happens, and you can stop anyone from suffering, and stop the trauma and stop the hurt we’re inflicting on each other.”
Bazawule expressed similar hopes for The Color Purple’s impact, specifically as it relates to family trauma, which is depicted heavily in the movie.
“My hope is that it also opens up conversations amongst young people to talk about what generational trauma looks like, and how, you know, trauma that is borrowed and that is carried on can be destructive,” he said.
Taraji P. Henson, who portrays jazz singer Shug Avery in the movie, echoed this sentiment and elaborated on the personal connection she feels to the movie’s female-empowering message.
“I just want the women coming up behind me to have a better experience than I’ve had, and the ones that have come before me, because I wouldn’t be here if some sisters didn’t fight their fight,” she said. “So the fight continues basically, and I’m going to continue to fight until the narrative changes.”