Steven Spielberg's 1985 film The Color Purple was extremely unusual for having an almost entirely African-American cast. (Alice Walker, whose 1982 novel it is based on, was the first ever African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.) The film is an enduring classic, and the musical-theatre version of the story is now hitting screens, championed by Spielberg and star of the original film Oprah Winfrey.
It is a story of female friendship, hardship and solidarity spanning the first half of the twentieth century, when slavery had been replaced by segregation in the American South. It's a family saga of Dickensian scale, full of coincidences and family secrets. The main protagonist Celie and her sister Nettie are very close, but Celie is married off by her abusive father to a violent husband, referred to simply as Mister. The sisters spend many years apart but Celie finds friendship and hope amongst jazz musicians.
Many of the actors in the film had previously played in the musical adaptation of the book, which has been a massive hit on Broadway since it was created in 2005. The second film version, directed by Blitz Bazawule, offers a third vision of the story, drawing from both novel and musical.
Alice Walker is 80 this year but is still a prolific writer and activist. She has written seven novels, four collections of short stories, four children’s book as well as essays and poetry collections. Her books have sold more than 15 million copies around the world. Find out more about them on her website.
Like the characters in The Color Purple, she was born in rural Georgia. Her parents, like so many others descended from enslaved people, freedom only meant sharecropping: barely subsistence farming. All the more difficult because Walker was the youngest of eight children.
Despite a difficult start, Walker managed to get a scholarship to university, where she took an active part in the Civil Rights movement.
The Color Purple
On general release 24 January 2024.
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Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
Alice Walker: Open Road Editions
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