THE COLOR PURPLE Turns A Wonderful Story Into A Rousing Musical

To this day, I have not read Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple. It is one of my more regrettable literary blindspots. Since first experiencing Steven Spielberg’s phenomenal movie adaptation many years ago, I have desired to read the source material. Another new film adaptation of Walker’s story is now in theaters. Director Blitz Bazawule has adapted the acclaimed and successful Broadway musical for the big screen. After enjoying this lively and exciting new take on the story, my cravings to read the novel have been further whetted.

Much like the Spielberg film, Blitz Bazawule’s movie follows the story of loving sisters Celie and Nettie Harris. Having to endure physical and sexual abuse from her father, young Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) wishes for an escape for both her and her sister (Halle Bailey). When a much older man named Albert “Mister” Johnson (Colman Domingo) courts a very reluctant Celie, she eventually marries Mister and hopes that life with him will be much better.

It isn’t long before Nettie runs away from home, as her father now has his sights on her. However, Mister has the same idea in mind. When Nettie vehemently refuses Mister’s advances, he banishes her from the Johnson household. As Celie grows into adulthood (now portrayed by Fantasia Barrino), she must endure a hard life of servitude to Mister and her children while longing for the day she will be reunited with her beloved Nettie.

With an adapted screenplay by Marcus Gardley, based on the musical, Blitz Bazawule’s musical version of The Color Purple is an exciting and energetic version of Alice Walker’s original story. The film is a beautiful celebration of Black American culture, incorporating Blues, Jazz, and Gospel music genres into what remains to be a powerful and moving story. I was very impressed with the choreography of the musical numbers, along with the tremendous singing of the performers.

I can see that pulling off a musical version of this often harrowing story, but the songs usually add to the empowering response by the characters rising above their hardships. Of course, fans of the original movie want to know how this new take measures up to the Spielberg classic. There are some key scenes and beats that play just as well, while there are others that don’t have the same level of impact. My biggest complaint is that the movie ends with a musical number too schmaltzy. This gripe has nothing to do with the song but more about how the movie leads up to this crucial moment.

Back on the more optimistic end of the spectrum, I must deliver high praise for the entire ensemble cast of this movie. Everyone performs exceptionally. As the adult Celie, Fantasia Barrino is wonderful. In addition to her incredible singing, Barrino shows some outstanding acting chops. Colman Domingo is perfectly hateful and frightening as the abusive and violent Albert “Mister” Johnson.

Taraji P. Henson steals her scenes as the incredible and infamous Shug Avery. My favorite performance, however, comes from Danielle Brooks, who portrays the strong-willed and no-nonsense Sofia. The movie also features excellent performances by Corey Hawkins, H.E.R., Halle Bailey, Ciara, and David Alan Grier.

The Color Purple opens in theaters on Christmas Day, and even though it isn’t the most heartwarming of films, it is a powerful and entertaining piece of theatrical cinema. It is a delightful celebration of Black American culture.

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