Alice Walker’s timeless novel “The Color Purple” returns to the big screen for the first time in four decades.
Steven Spielberg’s 1985 Oscar-nominated adaptation follows a young black woman named Celie (then played by Whoopi Goldberg) who tries to find her identity in rural Georgia while dealing with her abusive father and post-South prejudice. -antebellum and forms a close bond with jazz singer Shug. A stage musical adaptation of Walker’s book opened on Broadway in 2005, with Celie played by the likes of LaChanze and Cynthia Erivo throughout its run. Now, in director Blitz Bazawule’s film version of the Warner Bros. musical (out Christmas Day), R&B star Fantasia Barrino, who appeared on Broadway in the show from 2007 to 2008 and then went on a national tour two years later, takes on the role of Celie, with Taraji P. Henson as Shug. Check out the first official trailer for ‘The Color Purple’ below.
Producer Oprah Winfrey and director Bazawule shared the trailer exclusively during a virtual event on May 22. The footage showcases the film’s epic cast through a narrative spanning time, with exuberant fantasy and dream sequences and images of young Celie (played by “The Little Mermaid” breakout Halle Bailey) juxtaposed with an older Celie, who escapes the his present in soul-stirring musical reveries.
While launching the trailer, Winfrey promised a “bold, reimagined new take on ‘The Color Purple’ nearly 40 years later,” adding, “As long as there is a need for people to feel what it means to be loved … there will be a need ‘The color purple.’ Our iteration will be released on December 25th and I believe that in the future this story will grow and never get old.
Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, Danielle Brooks, HER, Ciara, Bailey, Louis Gosset Jr., David Alan Grier, Aunjanue Ellis and many more round out the stellar cast. Bazawule previously directed segments of Beyoncé’s visual album ‘Black Is King’ and the celebrated 2018 Ghanaian film ‘The Burial of Kojo’. The producers of 2023’s “The Color Purple” include Winfrey, Spielberg, Quincy Jones and Scott Sanders, with photography by Guillermo del Toro regular Dan Laustsen.
“American Idol” breakout Barrino has long been an advocate for abuse survivors, previously revealing his own experiences with sexual assault as a teenager. “I came from being sexually assaulted as a young girl. I come from domestic abuse. And I learned through this film that not only could I heal, but I could forgive,” Winfrey recalled that Barrino said in early conversations about the production.
Winfrey said Bazawule “was like the fifth or sixth director” they had talked to about the film’s direction. “Blitz presented these storyboards, and after five minutes of zooming in with him, I was texting (producer) Scott Sanders and everyone else, ‘Oh my god, that’s the guy.'”
“You dream about things like this, and then they happen,” Bazawule said. “The obvious instinct is to say, ‘Well, that can’t be me,'” she said. “The bar is so high… But first I read the script and said, ‘I understand what (writer) Marcus (Gardley) is trying to do here,’ and, of course, I sat down with Steven and Oprah and Scott Sanders and Warner Bros., and it was clear that they were really going to allow us to expand the canon of ‘The Color Purple,’ which began with ‘How do we create an internal headspace for Celie?’”
Bazawule added, “I wanted to create the most epic and daring visual motifs…Someone called it ‘magical realist’, that’s what we leaned into.” She said he wanted to “create some level of parallelism between the music and the character,” leaning on gospel and blues greats to blend the song with the imagery. “When you put it all together, you have a tapestry that’s beautiful, joyful… healing.”
The screenplay is by Marcus Gardley (“Maid,” “The Chi”), adapting the stage adaptation with a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.
Given that Spielberg’s “Color Purple” earned 11 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Warner Bros. is certainly eyeing a serious contender for the awards here.