The Color Purple (film)

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The Color Purple
The Color Purple poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by
Screenplay by Menno Meyjes
Based on The Color Purple 
by Alice Walker
Music by Quincy Jones
Cinematography Allen Daviau
Edited by Michael Kahn
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • December 18, 1985 (1985-12-18)
Running time
153 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $15 million
Box office $142 million

The Color Purple is a 1985 American period drama film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Menno Meyjes, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker. It was Spielberg's eighth film as a director, and was a change from the summer blockbusters for which he had become famous. The film was also the first feature-length film directed by Spielberg for which John Williams did not compose the music. The film starred Danny Glover, Desreta Jackson, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey (in her film debut), Adolph Caesar, Rae Dawn Chong, and introduced Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Harris-Johnson.

Filmed in Anson and Union counties in North Carolina,[2] the film tells the story of a young African American girl named Celie Harris and shows the problems African American women faced during the early 20th century, including domestic violence, incest, pedophilia, poverty, racism, and sexism. Celie is transformed as she finds her self-worth through the help of two strong female companions.[3]


Taking place in Georgia between winter 1909 and autumn 1937, the film explores the life of an ordinary African American woman named Celie Harris, whose abuse begins when she is young. By the time she is fourteen, she has had one child by her father, Alphonso "James" Harris, and is pregnant with another. He takes them away from her at childbirth and forces the young Celie to marry Albert Johnson, a rich, young widower who is only known to her as "Mister", who forces her to raise his unruly children and treats her like a mute servant. He beats and rapes her often, intimidating Celie into submission and near silence. Celie's sister Nettie comes to live with them after running away from home, and there is a brief period of happiness as the sisters spend time together and Nettie begins to teach Celie how to read. This is short-lived; after unsuccessfully attempting to rape Nettie, Albert becomes angered and he kicks her out. Before being run off, Nettie promises to write to Celie.

Celie also finds strength in Sofia, a fiery and confident woman who marries Albert's son Harpo. Harpo confides in his father that Sofia is hard to control. Albert tells Harpo he should beat her, so he can control her. He asks the same question of Celie. Celie, afraid of what Albert may do if she says otherwise, says to beat her too. Later, Sofia angry confronts Celie about telling Harpo to beat her, citing that like Celie, the men in her family have attempted to abuse her into submission all her life, and that she will not put up with it from Harpo. Years later, after having many children, and going through a back-and-forth abusive relationship, Sofia decides to leave Harpo. Celie begins to lose hope that her sister has long gone as no letters appear for her at the letter box.

Years later during a storm, Albert's old sweetheart, jazz singer Shug Avery, comes to live with him and Celie. Shug and Celie eventually become close friends. Shug confides in Celie about her difficult relationship with her father, a local pastor. Harpo builds a Juke Joint, a small bar with Shug singing the opening night. It proves to be a popular places for townsmen and does well. However, Shug's pastor father condemns the juke joint. Harpo's new girlfriend Squeak gets into a fight with Sofia, and a fight breaks out in the bar. Shug tries to reconcile with her father the pastor, but is unsuccessful and decides to leave. Celie attempts to run away with her, but fear stops her.

One day, during a walk in town, Sofia's high-spiritedness proves to be her downfall, as a rude remark to the town mayor's wife "Miss Millie" and a retaliatory punch to the mayor himself ends with Sofia beaten and jailed for eight years. After her jailtime, Sofia ends up being the mayor's wife's maid. Sofia is shown to be prematurely aged and permanently disfigured due to the severe beatings she received in jail and demoralized into an almost catatonic state. Before Christmas Day, Miss Millie offers to drive Sofia back home to celebrate the holidays for the afternoon, but this is short-lived when Miss Millie gets frantic by the family members and wants to leave.

During a visit for Easter from Shug and her new husband Grady, Celie and Shug discover many years' worth of Nettie's correspondence. During all this time, Nettie has been living with the couple who adopted Celie's two children, now missionaries in Africa, and writing frequently to Celie - however, Celie has been unaware of the correspondence, as Albert had confiscated the letters, collecting them under a loose floorboard and forbade Celie to touch the mailbox, having told her she'd never hear from Nettie again. Reading the experiences written of Africa written in the letters and the assurance that she is still alive gives Celie hope that they may see each other again. She reads that Nettie is attempting to gain immigration status, but is unable to come home yet.

At a family dinner, Celie finally asserts herself, excoriating Albert and his father's years of abuse of her. Shug informs Albert that she and Grady are leaving and that Celie is coming with them. Harpo's girlfriend Squeak declares she is going with them as well. Despite Albert's attempts to verbally abuse Celie into submission, she stands up to him by mentioning that he kept Nettie away from her because Nettie was the only one who really loved her. Seeing Celie stand up for herself, Sofia returns to her normal self, laughing hysterically at a dumbfounded and embarrassed Albert. She also warns Celie not to follow in her own footsteps as Celie holds a knife to Albert's throat after he provokes her. It is at this point that Celie curses Albert, saying that until he does what's right by her, everything he tries or thinks about will fail. As Shug, Grady, Squeak, and Celie go to the car, Albert readies to beat Celie, but she stares him down and they leave.

In Tennessee, Celie opens a successful haberdashery. Upon the death of her father, Celie learns that he was, in fact, her stepfather, and that she has inherited her childhood home, the farm, and a shop from her real father. She opens her second slacks shop, naming it Miss Celie's Folks Pants, while Harpo and Sofia reconcile during some fittings with Celie. Meanwhile, Albert starts feeling the effects of Celie's words. By fall 1937, he has fallen into alcoholism and isolation, and neglected his home, farm, and livestock, spending most of his evenings at his son Harpo's Juke joint until closing hours. His father visits him and suggests that he find a new wife, but Albert refuses the idea and turns his father out the house.

Another day, while performing at the juke joint, Shug leads patrons from the juke joint to the church. She begins to sing powerfully and approaches her father. He is moved and embraces her while the whole church rejoices.

Celie receives a letter from the immigration office. Albert has arranged for Nettie, her husband, and Celie's two children and daughter-in-law to come back to America from Africa. Celie's children, Adam and Olivia, rejoice as they are reunited with her at Celie's farm. Albert looks on from a distance, and Shug smiles at him because he finally did the right thing. Nettie and Celie play their childhood clapping game as the sun sets.



The Color Purple was shown at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival as a non-competing title.[4]

Critical response[edit]

The film received positive reviews from critics, receiving praise for its acting, direction, screenplay, score, and production merits, but was criticized by some for being "over-sentimental" and "stereotypical." Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 88% based on reviews from 26 critics, with an average score of 6.9/10. The site's consensus states: "A sentimental tale that reveals great emotional truths in American history."[5]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film four stars, calling it "the year's best film." He also praised Whoopi Goldberg, calling her role "one of the most amazing debut performances in movie history" and predicting she would win the Academy Award for Best Actress. (She was nominated but did not win.) Ebert wrote of The Color Purple:

The world of Celie and the others is created so forcibly in this movie that their corner of the South becomes one of those movie places — like Oz, like Tara, like Casablanca — that lay claim to their own geography in our imaginations. The affirmation at the end of the film is so joyous that this is one of the few movies in a long time that inspires tears of happiness, and earns them.[6]

Ebert's long-time television collaborator, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, praised the film as "triumphantly emotional and brave," calling it Spielberg's "successful attempt to enlarge his reputation as a director of youthful entertainments." Siskel wrote that The Color Purple was "a plea for respect for black women." Although acknowledging that the film was a period drama, he praised its "... incredibly strong stand against the way black men treat black women. Cruel is too kind a word to describe their behavior. The principal black men in The Color Purple use their women — both wives and daughters — as sexual chattel."[7]

New York Times film critic Janet Maslin noted the film's divergence from Walker's book, but made the case that this shift works:

Mr. Spielberg has looked on the sunny side of Miss Walker's novel, fashioning a grand, multi-hanky entertainment that is as pretty and lavish as the book is plain. If the book is set in the harsh, impoverished atmosphere of rural Georgia, the movie unfolds in a cozy, comfortable, flower-filled wonderland. ... Some parts of it are rapturous and stirring, others hugely improbable, and the film moves unpredictably from one mode to another. From another director, this might be fatally confusing, but Mr. Spielberg's showmanship is still with him. Although the combination of his sensibilities and Miss Walker's amounts to a colossal mismatch, Mr. Spielberg's Color Purple manages to have momentum, warmth and staying power all the same.[8]

Variety found the film over-sentimental, writing, "there are some great scenes and great performances in The Color Purple, but it is not a great film. Steven Spielberg's turn at 'serious' film-making is marred in more than one place by overblown production that threatens to drown in its own emotions."[9]

In addition, some critics alleged that the movie stereotyped black people in general[10] and black men in particular,[11] pointing to the fact that Spielberg, a white man, had directed a predominantly African American story.[12]

Filmmaker Oliver Stone defended The Color Purple as "an excellent movie, and it was an attempt to deal with an issue that had been overlooked, and it wouldn't have been done if it hadn't been Spielberg. And it's not like everyone says, that he ruined the book. That's horseshit. Nobody was going to do the book. He made the book live again."[13]

In 2004, Ebert included The Color Purple in his list of "Great Movies". He stated that "I can see its flaws more easily than when I named it the best film of 1985, but I can also understand why it moved me so deeply, and why the greatness of some films depends not on their perfection or logic, but on their heart."[14]

Box office[edit]

The Color Purple was a success at the box office, staying in U.S. theaters for 21 weeks,[15] and grossing over $142 million worldwide.[16] In terms of box office income, it ranked as the #1 rated PG-13 film released in 1985, and #4 overall.[15]


from the BBC programme Desert Island Discs, 19 May 2013[17]

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The Color Purple was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Goldberg and Best Supporting Actress for both Avery and Winfrey.[18] It failed to win any of them, tying the record set by 1977's The Turning Point for the most Oscar nominations without a single win.[11]

Academy Awards nominations

The Color Purple was nominated for four Golden Globes, including Best Picture (Drama), Best Director for Spielberg, and Best Supporting Actress for Winfrey. Its only win went to Goldberg for Best Actress (Drama).

Meyjes was also nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 40th awards ceremony and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 38th awards ceremony.

Spielberg received this first Directors Guild of America Award at the 38th awards ceremony for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. He became the first director to win the award without even being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THE COLOR PURPLE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. April 10, 1986. Retrieved March 16, 2016. 
  2. ^ "The Color Purple filming locations". The 80s Movie Rewind. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Corliss, Richard (Dec 23, 1985). "Cinema: The Three Faces of Steve the Color Purple". Time. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The". Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  5. ^ "The Color Purple (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (Dec 20, 1985). "The Color Purple". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  7. ^ Siskel, Gene (Dec 20, 1985). "Color Purple: Powerful, Daring, Sweetly Uplifting". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (Dec 18, 1985). "Film: 'The Color Purple,' from Steven Spielberg". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 
  9. ^ "The Color Purple". Variety. Dec 31, 1984. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  10. ^ Clegg II, Legrand H.(Chairman, Coalition Against Black Exploitation, Compton) (Feb 16, 1986). "Bad Black Roles In 'Purple'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  11. ^ a b Friendly, David T. (Mar 27, 1986). "Academy Hits Racism Accusation". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  12. ^ Matthews, Jack (Jan 31, 1986). "3 'Color Purple' Actresses Talk About Its Impact". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  13. ^ Cooper, Marc. Oliver Stone interview from Playboy Magazine (1988), in Stone, Oliver and Silet, Charles L.P., editors. Oliver Stone—Interviews, University Press of Mississippi (2006), p. 87.
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (28 March 2015). "The Color Purple Movie Review (1985)". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  15. ^ a b "The Color Purple," Box Office Mojo. Accessed Dec. 9, 2011.
  16. ^ Matthews, Jack (Dec 25, 1985). "A Strong Start for 'Color Purple' in Christmas Box Office Race". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 
  17. ^ "Alice Walker". Desert Island Discs. 19 May 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2014-01-18. 
  18. ^ "'Out of Africa' Ties as Oscar Nominees: 11 Citations; Spielberg Not Named". The Los Angeles Times. Feb 5, 1986. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 

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