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THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)
"The Color Purple" is a poignant portrait of a young African American woman's struggles through life at the dawn of the twentieth century. Emancipated by law, Celie discovers that oppression comes in all forms, even at the hands of the men of her own people. A lifetime of oppression and abuse provoke Celie to harden into a determined woman, ready to free herself from the chains of a bad marriage and start a new life, all while holding her head high.
Written by: Alice Walker (novel) and Menno Meyjes (screenplay).
Directed by: Steven Spielberg.
THE COLOR PURPLE was nominated for the Best Picture award.
Rated: PG-13 for thematic content and some violence.
Tagline: She was a victim. She was a hero.
THE COLOR PURPLE tells of the trials and tribulations of one African American woman's life at the beginning of the twentieth century. After her mother dies, Celie (Desreta Jackson) is left to mercy of her Pa, from whom she has already bore two children. Determined not to let the town in on his little scandal, Pa sells Celie's children off to a young couple, leaving Celie young, tainted, heartbroken, and confused. As she struggles to understand what is becoming of her Celie notices her Pa beginning to look at her younger sister Nettie (Akosua Busia) the same way. Afraid that Pa might ruin Nettie the two attempt to stay as far away from Pa as possible. All seems well for Nettie however, when a handsome young man by the name of Albert (Danny Glover) comes to ask for her hand in marriage. But Pa adamantly refuses to give her up and instead, hands off Celie to Albert, warning him that she has been "twice spoiled, and uglier than a dog, but won't ask for nothing".
But upon arriving at her new home Celie learns that Albert's intentions were anything but love. Welcomes by a swift blow to the head from one of his children, Celie sets about cleaning the destroyed farm, with no thanks expressed from the abusive Albert and his ungrateful children. Enduring blow after blow Celie is next to despair when her sister Nettie arrives at the farm. As fate would have it Nettie was forced to run away from home after Pa once again attempted to have his way with his daughter. But Nettie is a fighter and this time she is determined to help Celie fight back. Teaching her how to read Nettie helps educate Celie among the humble provisions available, which includes Nettie's favorite text book, the ironically appropriate Dickens' novel, Oliver Twist.
But Albert has his eye on Nettie and is determined to sleep with her as well. Following her out to school one morning under the pretense of a romantic courtier, Albert all but drags Nettie behind a bush, forcing her to fight back with blows. Enraged, Albert rips Nettie out of the refuge of Celie's carriage and banishes her from his property. Her last words were "Nothin' but God could keep me away from her". A now literate Celie anxiously waits on the porch everyday in hopes that Nettie writes her a letter. But, as Albert attests, nothing comes.
Years go by and Celie (Whoopie Goldberg), now accustomed to the daily abuses and rituals of the household, still dutifully attends to her responsibilities without ever the slightest inclination of appreciation from Albert. Though the years have passed Celie has yet to hear from Nettie and begins to suspect she might be dead. Once again Celie finds herself despairing; unsure as how to act or what to do until the headstrong Sofia (Oprah Winfrey) comes walking into Albert's house in the arm of his eldest son Harpo (Willard E. Pugh). Between her size and her dominant character Sofia all but nearly mothers her husband-to-be, which of course Albert is quick to encourage Harpo to correct. Directing Harpo to beat Sofia, Harpo inquires as to Celie's opinion. Not knowing any other touch than a swift hand across the face Celie tells Harpo to beat her as well, thinking it to be the right decision at the time. But when a bruised Sofia comes up to Celie in tears exclaiming that she swore her abusive days were over and never would she endure another beating at the hands of a man in her own home, Celie begins to understand that maybe the way Albert has been treating her isn't proper at all.
The war ensues between Sofia and Harpo, who, between blows, continue to pop out one child to the next. But it isn't long before Sofia musters the courage to leave, and Harpo is left to tend home by himself. Meanwhile the decadent Shug Avery (Margaret Avery) is back in town. Albert's true love from the start, he makes no attempt to hide his affection for the larger than life woman whose ability to dominate his authority leaves Celie in awe. Befriending her husband's mistress, Celie comes to understand that deep down both woman are the same: two women yearning for acceptance but who simply choose to go about it differently. Nevertheless, Shug's grandeur begins to rub off on Celie and instills confidence in her that was wanting before. As Shug sings her way through the nights at the back wood's Juke Joint, her father, Reverend Samuel, turns his head, and his heart, the other way.
Soon enough Shug leaves town, and Celie's attempts to run off with her are thwarted once again by the intimidating Albert. Going about their way, years pass before Celie and Albert see Shug again. But this time she has returned with another man, her husband, Grady. A fine gentleman, Grady represents everything that Albert was too angry to become. But Albert is too blinded by anger and envy to see his own faults that is until Celie finally musters the courage to slap them in his face: but the courage comes from her anger which is derived from her discovery of year's worth of letters from Nettie that Albert has been hiding from Celie all along. Disgusted by what he was, is, and always will be, Celie stands up to the man that has beaten her so many times before and scolds him in Shug Avery fashion. Meanwhile, the tried Sofia has returned home from her hiatus, which included a stint in jail after she defended herself against a white man and left her forever humbled. But Celie's defiance sparks Sofia's headstrong flame and Celie's quick exit leaves the revived Sofia to once again look after the incompetent and selfish male household.
Starting a new life with Shug and Grady, Celie waits to hear word from Nettie, which also promises to bear news about another of Celie's dark secrets: the whereabouts of her children are now known; Nettie being the only person to testify that they are indeed Celie's children. Having inherited her old homestead after the death of her Pa, Celie learns that her Pa wasn't actually her paternal Pa, who had actually died before Celie and Bettie were born. Having left the homestead to mother, who in turn left it to her children, her original Pa seems to have been the only man to have done right by Celie, yet whom Celie never even got the chance to meet. Nevertheless Celie heads excitedly home to reclaim what was rightfully hers all along.
Meanwhile Albert grapples with a curse that Celie places on him, swearing that, until he does right by her he will feel all that he had done to her ten fold. But can Albert's cold heart find it within himself to avenge all of the injustices he wrought on Celie? Moreover, what is he supposed to do about all of Nettie's letters that keep coming from Africa? A poignant conclusion wraps up THE COLOR PURPLE amidst a field of purple violets contrasted with flowing African scarves. With Shug Avery attesting that "I think God gets pissed off when we walk past a field of purple flowers and don't notice them", Celie learns that all anyone really ever wants in life is to acknowledgement: to love, and be loved.
THE COLOR PURPLE is a powerful tour de force that will have you spell bound from beginning to end. Heavy thematic content is elevated and expanded with dark realities and ironic humor. Brief interventions of flippant humor and bold characters add a hopeful, albeit light tone to the film. Never has characterization done so much for a film with an already strong plot line. The different colors each character brings to the screen work together to create a mural attesting to the human condition of suffering, loss, love, etc. The lens of the film gives audience the perspective of an African American community but Spielberg goes through great lengths to universalize their condition and apply their trials and tribulations to all of humanity so that we may all walk away from the film appreciating both life and our loved ones better, whether we are black, white, brown, etc.
Whoopie Goldberg floors audiences in her first ever film appearance as Celie.
Margaret Avery shines as the larger than life Shug Avery and Oprah Winfrey is poignantly captivating as the headstrong woman who is broken by time, only to find her fire again.
Danny Glover portrays the abusive, love-stricken Albert with such sincerity that the audience doesn't know whether to love his character or hate him: which, ironically corresponds with the opinions of the women in the film.
All involved deliver with top quality performances and Spielberg does a great job at allowing the actors to reach depths of emotion that help solidify the reality and the emotionality of the film.
THE COLOR PURPLE is a powerful, memorable, and poignant look at humanity through the lens of one woman struggling to find her way through a life of oppression wrought by male forces. Between the beautiful cinematography and vivid performances by the actors THE COLOR PURPLE delivers tenfold.
Whoopie Goldberg plays Celie (Desreta Jackson plays young Celie), a young commonly African American woman who is constantly at the mercy of abusive men and their injustices.
Margaret Avery plays Shug Avery, the formidable African American starlet whose poise and voice made her the love of Albert’s heart, and Celie’s best friend.
Danny Glover plays Albert, ‘Mister’, Celie’s abusive husband who torments her for the mistakes he made with the headstrong Shug Avery.
Oprah Winfrey plays Sofia, a large woman with a booming voice, big heart, and iron will whose determination to remain free from higher powers provokes her breaking in jail.
Willard E. Pugh plays Harpo, Sofia’s meekly husband who is torn between allying himself with his father and his wife.
Akosua Busia plays Nettie, Celie’s estranged sister who, after years of separation, has finally returned home from Africa.