Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
|Coming-of-Age Musical Drama Adaptation
|2 hr. 20 min.
|Year of Release:
December 25, 2023 (wide release)
DVD: March 12, 2024
Coming of age
Early 1900s / 20th century setting in the state of Georgia and Memphis, Tennessee
A story of the lifelong struggles of an African-American woman living in the South during the early 1900s.
Based on a broadway musical based on a film, based on a novel
Singing and dancing
Girl who writes letters to God because her father beats and rapes her with two children resulting
Husband wife relationships
Domestic violence / Very abusive father and husband
Resilience in the face of trauma
GAY—What’s wrong with being Gay? Answer —Homosexual behavior versus the Bible: Are people born Gay? Does homosexuality harm anyone? Is it anyone’s business? Are homosexual and heterosexual relationships equally valid?
What about Gays needs to change? Answer —It may not be what you think.
Read stories about those who have struggled with homosexuality
Midwife / pregnancy
ORIGIN OF ETHNIC PEOPLE GROUPS—How could all ethnicities come from Noah, his three sons and their wives? Answer
Phylicia Pearl Mpasi … Young Celie
Fantasia Barrino … Celie
Taraji P. Henson … Shug Avery
Louis Gossett Jr. … Ol’ Mister
Elizabeth Marvel … Miss Millie
Danielle Brooks … Sofia
Colman Domingo … Mister
Corey Hawkins … Harpo
Halle Bailey … Young Nettie
Ciara … Nettie
David Alan Grier … Reverend Avery
H.E.R. (Gabriella Wilson ‘H.E.R.’) … Squeak
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Scott Sanders Productions
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|Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company
It’s 1909 in the outskirts of Georgia. Young Celie and Nettie are two sisters making the best of life by sweeping and taking care of their Pa’s shop, though let’s be honest their Pa isn’t necessarily the most shining example of what a father should be. While Pa praises and thinks extremely highly of Nettie, Celie, on the other hand, he has called them inferior, stupid and ugly. Still Celie and Nettie are unstirred by Pa’s behavior. It’s like Nettie says to Celie, “No matter how far we part, each of us share one heart.”
For Celie, things only go from bad to worse. As it turns out, Celie’s had three children taken from her by her Pa and “given to God.” On top of this, Celie is later forced to marry an older, verbally and physically abusive man named Ol’ Mister (Louis Gossett Jr.). For a time things seem hopeless for Celie.
“Why would you take my babies from me God? Why would you leave me with someone as horrible as Mister? Why have you abandoned me?”
Why does God allow innocent people to suffer?
Why is the world the way it is? If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving, would He really create a world like this? (filled with oppression, suffering, death and cruelty) Answer
Just as luck would have it, Young Nettie comes to visit Celie at Mister’s. She wants to live at Misters and Celies. “Fine, but you’ll have to pull your own weight around here,” says Mister.”
Celie is overjoyed to be reunited with her sister. Finally a silver lining in the never ending shroud of darkness, that is until one night when Mister tries to sexually assault Nettie in her sleep. Luckily, Nettie is strong enough to fight Mister off, but it comes at a horrible price…
“Get off my property girl! If you so much as step on this property or even try to contact Celie, I’ll kill you both!” Mister threatens Nettie.
“I’ll write ya every day. I promise,” Young Nettie cries then runs off.
Years pass and no letters come. “Is my sister alive? Dead? Missing?” wonders Celie. “Why doesn’t she write to me?” Still, she watches as Mister’s oldest son, Harpo gets married and has a child of his own, but he’s in an abusive relationship himself and when he asks Celie for advice she says, “You need to hit her back.” Bad advice, Celie.
More years come and go and still no letters, yet hope comes in the form of a visit from Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson) who teaches Celie about the joys of life: how to have fun, dancing, and, uh, other pleasures. Celie also discovers a letter from Nettie that was hidden from Mister. This gives Celie the one thing Mister didn’t want her to have… hope.
With this newfound hope, Celie must learn what it takes to stand up for herself, that God has not abandoned her and that through His strength all things are possible.
‘Tis the season, I suppose, for movie musicals. First “Wonka” and now we have “The Color Purple” (which one was announced first, I’m not entirely sure but I’m not sure it really matters). I guess it’s timely and here’s why…
I rarely discuss my full time job here, but I feel it has relevance to this particular review. As an elementary music teacher, around this time of the year I will devote a few weeks to a unit on musicals and even movie musicals. I discuss with the students how a musical is structured and that regardless as to whether a musical is a stage musical or movie musical the music’s role is to do one of three things:
1) support the action that is occurring on screen or on stage
2) explain what a character is thinking or feeling or
3) predict something that is going to occur in the future.
I also discuss with the students that if the music in a musical is too frequent or too much one type (e.g. all upbeat and jazz-like or all slow and ballad-like) then it can either become frustrating to listen to or too difficult to maintain the audience’s interest.
For “The Color Purple” there are 31 songs in total. While not all of them are hard hitting show stoppers, as some are only 1 minute in length (“Workin” comes to mine) and some are instrumentals, that is still a lot of music for someone to have to take in all in one sitting, especially with a film that is 2 hours and 20 minutes long. If you are asking the audience to sit still for that long (and remember there is no intermission, since this is a movie musical) every song must be impactful or serve a purpose.
In the case of many of the songs for “The Color Purple” I discovered many of these songs reflect how many of the characters felt, which I thought was appropriate for a film musical like “The Color Purple.”
Musically, many of the songs for “The Color Purple” work beautifully and to the film’s credit. Songs such as the rhythm-and-blues selection, “She Be Mine,” “I’m Here” (my personal favorite), to the more traditional gospel selection “Maybe God is Trying to Tell You Something” provide enough music so that there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Additionally, there is enough of a break between the dialog, the action and the singing to actually sit back and appreciate the music. I didn’t feel like I was constantly being bombarded like I was with “In the Heights” a few years back.
As a story, “The Color Purple” is not for the faint of heart. There’s a powerful story of sisterhood, standing against racism, sure, but for a large portion of the story, things are bleak. We witness both men AND women being abused on screen, both physically and verbally.
While the physical abuse is never frequent, it’s enough of an occurrence to make anyone jump out of their seat in absolute shock. There are times we witness women treated like property as opposed to people in the musical (I suppose those were the circumstances, but that doesn’t make it just).
Lastly, the performances of Fantasia Barrino as Celie and Louis Gossett Jr. as Mister are truly the two that stand out to me the most. Fantasia does not get a ton of dialog in the film, so she makes up for this by providing incredible expression and depth in her musical numbers. Louis Gossett Jr. makes an incredible Mister. He is just simply someone you just want to hate, but he is also someone you are, at the same time, hoping among all hope that will find some sort of repentance and redemption in the end.
SEXUAL CONTENT/DIALOG (Partial List): We hear that two young girls were sexually abused by their father. A girl’s water breaks. We see a girl give birth to a newborn. An older man tries to flirt with a much younger girl. A guy is said to have “loose women” and three kids. A man forces sex on a young girl who he has taken as his wife (against her wishes) (the sexual act is off screen but we see the bed shake and hear the man moan).
Another girl is almost sexually assaulted, but fights the older man off, and when she refuses him she is thrown out of the house and onto the ground. A woman is carrying a man’s child (out of wedlock) and warns him that he should remember who “warms your bones.” People share some kisses. In a song, people mention climbing on each other.
There is some sexualized dialog and dancing in a few musical numbers throughout the film, particularly in the song “Push the Button.” A woman has a baby with another man while still married. Two women share a kiss and are seen later waking up in bed together. Someone mentions women used to “toss off their drawers.”
NUDITY: A woman is seen naked in the bathtub (bubbles cover anything revealing) and the camera shows this from the side and from above during a song. Women show some cleavage during a nightclub scene. There is a naked newborn infant.
VIOLENCE: A father tells his daughter he gave her babies to God, to which his daughter asks, “When will God give my babies back to me?” (it is implied that the father killed the babies, but this is not confirmed). A woman is knocked to the ground by a grown man. A young girl is threatened with a shotgun. A young couple abuses each other (we see the marks afterward, not the acts). A man has his face slapped. Two women slap each other, followed by a man slapping a woman’s face, followed by an all out brawl at a bar.
A man is seen a few times grabbing and throwing a woman to the ground and also slapping her in the face. Two children are conceived by rape and two were possibly conceived by incest. There are discussions of a man beating a woman. Soldiers are seen raiding homes filled with smoke. A woman gets slapped, hit with a wrench in the face and knocked out for defending herself. Another woman is knocked to the ground. A woman puts a knife to a man’s throat twice. A man trips and falls in the mud.
VULGARITY: Wh*re (3), P*sses (2), C*lored (1), Horse-Sh*t (2), Sack of dead horse-sh*t (1), Sh*t (3), A** (2), Stupid (1), Dummy (1), Ugly (1)
ALCOHOL: There are several scenes where characters are seen drinking, both at home and at a local bar. One character gets heavily drunk in a few scenes and causes a couple scenes.
Celie is abused, mistreated and neglected by people she feels are supposed to love and care for her. Her Pa took her children away from her. Mister abuses her, physically and verbally. The one person she thought was always going to be there for her, her sister, was taken away from her, and she asked God, “Why me? Why has all this happened to me? Do you even care? Did you abandon me?”
The Biblical Job was a man, righteous before God, who had everything taken from him, and was brought down to the lowest position. People all around him, even his closest friends, told him to curse God and die. At first Job did not relent, instead Job said,
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face. —Job 13:15
At one point, Job did question God, he asked what he did to anger God, but in the end, he returned to God and after praying for his friends, God restored Job’s prosperity.
Now we are never promised a “happy ending” or a life of prosperity, but we are promised that God will be there with us and to never abandon us.
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” —Psalm 55:22
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” —Psalm 73:23-26
“Like these purple flowers here in the field. I think it p*sses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it,” Shug suggests.
Well, frankly, I don’t think God would use that kind of language, but I do understand what Shug is trying to say. It goes without saying that we should take time to stop and admire the things that God puts before us. We shouldn’t be in such a hurry to get through things and onto the next.
At times, I wonder if that’s what happens with “The Color Purple.” There’s a lot to digest with this film, some of it good and a lot of it bad. Does the good outweigh the bad? That’s hard to say?
Should YOU be in a rush to see “The Color Purple?” For all the redemptive qualities it has (even with the positive portrayal of God in this film which is rare these days), I still say no, as the physical and verbal abuse is hard to witness, the sexual content is incredibly heavy, and there is a fair amount of language to contend with as well. Find a different film to appreciate.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.