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]


Set in rural Georgia during the first 40 years of the twentieth century, the film centers on the life of a fictional character named Celie, an oppressed black woman. In the film Celie endures rape, sex, the loss of her children at birth, a tyrannical husband, domestic violence, chauvinism, the loss of her sister and the demoralization of her friend (Sofia) who also loses her freedom to the law. Celie and the other characters tell a story of overcoming racism and misogyny in the rural south during this time period, depicting a struggle for equality. Celie maintains her resolve throughout the story. By the end of the film, the characters have undergone remarkable changes and relationships have begun to heal.[4][5][6]



The Color Purple was shown at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival as a non-competing title.[7]

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."[8]

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.[9]

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."[10]

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.[11]

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."[12]

In addition, some critics alleged that the movie stereotyped black people in general[13] and black men in particular,[14] pointing to the fact that Spielberg, a white man, had directed a predominantly African American story.[15]

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."[16]

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."[17]

Box office[edit]

The Color Purple was a success at the box office, staying in U.S. theaters for 21 weeks,[18] and grossing over $142 million worldwide.[19] In terms of box office income, it ranked as the #1 rated PG-13 film released in 1985, and #4 overall.[18]


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.[21] 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.[14]

Awards for The Color Purple
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient Outcome
Academy Awards March 24, 1986 Best Picture Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Quincy Jones Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Whoopi Goldberg
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Margaret Avery
Oprah Winfrey
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Menno Meyjes
Best Cinematography Allen Daviau
Best Art Direction – Set Decoration J. Michael Riva, Bo Welch and Linda DeScenna
Best Costume Design Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Best Makeup Ken Chase
Best Music, Original Score Quincy Jones, Jeremy Lubbock, Rod Temperton, Caiphus Semenya, Andraé Crouch, Chris Boardman, Jorge Calandrelli, Joel Rosenbaum, Fred Steiner, Jack Hayes, Jerry Hey and Randy Kerber
Best Music, Original Song Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton and Lionel Richie
For the song "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)"
Golden Globe Awards January 24, 1986 Best Motion Picture – Drama
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Whoopi Goldberg Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Steven Spielberg
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Quincy Jones

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 his 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. ^ Jones, Edward (20 January 1986). "The Color Purple is powerful". The Free Lance Star. Fredericksburg, VA. Retrieved 5 August 2016. 
  5. ^ Sanello, Frank (28 February 1986). "Steven Spielburg yeilds special effect". Ludington Daily News. Ludington, MI. Retrieved 5 August 2016. 
  6. ^ Maslin, Janet (18 December 1985). "Film: The Color Purple from Steven Spielburg". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved 5 August 2016. 
  7. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The". Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  8. ^ "The Color Purple (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (Dec 20, 1985). "The Color Purple". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  10. ^ Siskel, Gene (Dec 20, 1985). "Color Purple: Powerful, Daring, Sweetly Uplifting". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  11. ^ Maslin, Janet (Dec 18, 1985). "Film: 'The Color Purple,' from Steven Spielberg". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 
  12. ^ "The Color Purple". Variety. Dec 31, 1984. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ a b Friendly, David T. (Mar 27, 1986). "Academy Hits Racism Accusation". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  15. ^ Matthews, Jack (Jan 31, 1986). "3 'Color Purple' Actresses Talk About Its Impact". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger (28 March 2015). "The Color Purple Movie Review (1985)". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  18. ^ a b "The Color Purple". Box Office Mojo. Accessed Dec. 9, 2011.
  19. ^ Matthews, Jack (Dec 25, 1985). "A Strong Start for 'Color Purple' in Christmas Box Office Race". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 
  20. ^ "Alice Walker". Desert Island Discs. 19 May 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2014-01-18. 
  21. ^ "'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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