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Review: 'The Color Purple' shines with all-star musical cast

Samantha Smith reviews the latest film adaptation of a timeless Black literary classic.

Fantasia Barrino, left, and Halle Bailey in the 2023 musical film "The Color Purple". (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Whether you’ve read the book by Alice Walker, watched the iconic 1985 film, or seen the musical adaptation on Broadway, you probably have a relationship with “The Color Purple.”

We all have our favorite moments, songs, and characters, and the latest film adaptation, released on Christmas Day, gives us even more to love.

The heart of the story remains the same. In south Georgia during the early 1900s, we meet Celie (Fantasia Barrino) and follow her 40-year journey of pain, sisterhood, and resilience. Along the way, we meet her sister Nettie (Halle Bailey and Ciara); husband Mister (Colman Domingo); her daughter-in-law Sofia (Danielle Brooks), who married her son Harpo (Corey Hawkins); and Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson).

The star-studded cast also includes Phylicia Pearl Mpasi as young Celie, H.E.R. as Squeak, and David Alan Grier as Reverend Avery. As for additional surprise castings, moviegoers will have to see for themselves.

Directed by Blitz Bazawule, the new film is based on the musical version of “The Color Purple”, providing a more uplifting movie than the 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg. There is no escaping the themes of trauma and abuse experienced by the characters throughout the story, but the music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray, and choreography by Fatima Robinson bring an elevated spirit to the film—making it perfect for the Christmas season.

Bazawule's immersion of the audience into the imagination of Celie is also new. This creative addition complements her quiet and meek nature, showing us her underlying fortitude throughout the film. Barrino gives an outstanding performance, bringing grace and strength to her character. 

Sisterhood has always been an important theme in “The Color Purple”—not just between Celie and her sister, Nettie, but also Shug Avery (Henson) and Sofia (Brooks). Both Henson and Brooks give strong performances that complement Barrino and bring more depth to their relationships. 

The original narrative behind the film is a story of trauma, triumph, and redemption that has resonated with critics and audiences alike, winning multiple awards for its adaptations. For the book, Walker became in 1983 the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Literature, and she took home the National Book Award for fiction that same year. The 1985 film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and was the fourth highest-grossing film that year. 

The 2015 revival of the Broadway production earned a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical—and featured Brooks in her first rendition as Sofia. (Barrino played Celie in extended stints for the first American tour between 2007 and 2010.)

The 2023 film is following this same trajectory of recognition, already receiving Satellite, Critics’ Choice, and Golden Globe nominations. Many expect the film to also receive Academy Award nominations, which will be announced in January. According to Forbes, the movie had the biggest Christmas Day opening in over a decade and is the second highest-grossing film ever released on a holiday.

In a recent interview with DeVon Franklin, Oprah Winfrey—who starred as Sofia in the 1985 film and co-produced this year’s movie—described the story of “The Color Purple” in divine terms.

“It heals, it brings hope, it lifts people up—it brings joy because it’s an anointed piece of art,” she said. 

In its 141-minute runtime, the latest version of “The Color Purple” does all that and more. From the star-studded cast to the timely themes of resilience and love, this film will inspire you well into the new year.

Samantha Smith is a copy and content writer based in Atlanta. She worked for the Archdiocese of Atlanta for nearly a decade in various roles, including as a staff writer for The Georgia Bulletin, where she won numerous Catholic Press Awards for her writing and social media campaigns. Connect with Samantha by following her Catholic blog, Spirit and Sparkle, and her Twitter/X at @BeimaxCreates.

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