The Color Purple (film)

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The Color Purple
The Color Purple poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
Directed bySteven Spielberg
Produced by
Screenplay byMenno Meyjes
Based onThe Color Purple
by Alice Walker
Music byQuincy Jones
CinematographyAllen Daviau
Edited byMichael Kahn
Amblin Entertainment
The Guber-Peters Company
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 18, 1985 (1985-12-18)
Running time
153 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million
Box office$142 million

The Color Purple is a 1985 American coming-of-age period drama film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Menno Meyjes, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker. It was Spielberg's eighth film as a director, and was a change from the summer blockbusters for which he had become famous. The film was also the first feature-length film directed by Spielberg for which John Williams did not compose the music. The film starred Danny Glover, Desreta Jackson, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey (in her film debut), Adolph Caesar, Rae Dawn Chong, and featured Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Harris-Johnson.

Filmed in Anson and Union counties in North Carolina,[2] the film tells the story of a young African American girl named Celie Harris and shows the problems African American women faced during the early 20th century, including domestic violence, incest, pedophilia, poverty, racism, and sexism. Celie is transformed as she finds her self-worth through the help of two strong female companions.[3]

The film was a box office success, raising $142 million from a budget of $15 million. The film received positive reviews from critics, receiving praise for its acting, direction, screenplay, score, and production merits; but it was also criticized by some critics for being "over-sentimental" and "stereotypical." The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, without winning any; it also received four Golden Globe Award nominations, with Whoopi Goldberg winning Best Actress in a Drama. Steven Spielberg didn't receive an Academy Award nomination for his directing, but did receive a Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement, and a Golden Globe nomination. The film was later included in Roger Ebert's book series The Great Movies.


Celie is an African-American teenager in early 20th century Georgia who has had two children by her abusive father. Her father gives her away as a wife to widower Albert Johnson, who already has three children, separating her from her younger sister Nettie, whom she had vowed to protect. Taking on her new domestic and marital duties, Celie is soon abused by Albert, who treats her like a domestic worker. One day, while at a store she encounters who she believes to be her now 7 month-old daughter in the arms a lady, who was said to have taken in her first child, a boy, as well.

Nettie escapes their abusive father and comes to seek shelter at the Johnson estate. Albert immediately takes a romantic interest in Nettie and lets her stay. Nettie tries to motivate Celie to stand up against abuse, but Celie says that she only knows how to survive. Celie warns Nettie about Albert’s advances, and the girls promise to write each other, should they part. Nettie teaches Celie to read and they have a very happy time living together, until Nettie is followed and sexually assaulted by Albert while on her way to school. She successfully fights him off, after which she is forcibly removed from the property.

The only thing that pleases Albert is receiving mail from his lover, Shug Avery, and he threatens Celie, who anticipates receiving mail from Nettie, to never touch the mail box. While Albert is out and about, Celie continues practicing her reading. Years later, with Celie now a meek adult operating in survival mode, she experiences joy by seeing Albert gleefully prepare to meet up with Shug, and starts to develop a fondness of Shug, a performing artist, whom she only knows by picture.

The oldest son, now an adolescent, brings home his pregnant girlfriend, Sofia, a strong-willed, boisterous character, and asks Albert's permission to marry her, who then objects and offends Sofia, after which Sofia tells Albert off. They get married after the baby has arrived, and Celie is shocked to see Sofia running a matriarchal household. Seeking advice on how to keep Sofia in check, Albert suggests Harpo start hitting her. With Celie present, Harpo attempts to overpower Sofia, to no effect, after which Harpo asks Celie what to do. Confronted with her own inability to stand up to abuse, she also advises Harpo to start beating Sofia. Next, Harpo, with a black and blue, swollen eye, in talking with his father, denies Sofia having beaten him, while elsewhere a slightly bruised and angry Sofia confronts Celie about what she had told Harpo, threatens to kill Harpo if he starts beating her, and tells Celie to do the same with Albert. Years later, Sofia tired of the back and forth beating, leaves Harpo, taking all their children with her.

Celie is still waiting to hear from Nettie. Albert appears to be hiding mail from her. On a stormy night, Albert and Harpo bring an ill Shug Avery into the house. Anticipating happy times ahead, star-struck Celie does not object to his lover entering her home. Again, Celie is confronted with seeing a strong-willed woman, as she watches Albert make a fool out of himself trying to please Shug. In awe, she goes above and beyond pleasing and nursing Shug back to health. Shug, a more mature woman, takes a liking to her, writes a song about Celie and sings it to her at Harpo’s newly opened bar, which makes Celie light up and they share an intimate moment back at the house. Obsessed with Shug, Celie follows her around and learns she is in ill standing with the reverend, who is angry about Shug’s wild lifestyle. Celie decides to follow Shug to Memphis, but gets caught by Albert while she’s frantically packing her things.

In town a Caucasian lady, Ms. Millie, asks Sofia to be her maid. Sofia tells her off and the mayor, who overheard, slaps Sofia, who then punches him. An angry Caucasian mob attacks Sofia, who is then knocked out by the sheriff, imprisoned for years and then forced by the judge to become Ms. Millie’s maid. Celie helps Sofia, who is now old and defeated, and cannot read, prepare groceries for Ms. Millie. Sofia is allowed a day off for Christmas to be with her family, whom she hasn’t seen in 8 years. Millie, now the mayor’s wife, attempts to drive away on her own, but fails and panics as she is surrounded by Sofia’s friends and family who are only trying to help Millie, who then makes Sofia drive her home again.

One day Shug arrives and both Celie and Albert excitedly run out to meet her, but find she arrived with her now husband Grady. Shug expecting to receive a contract collects the Johnson mail while Albert is being chummy with Grady. Shug takes Celie upstairs and hands her a letter from Nettie. In her letter, Nettie writes that she is working for a childless Christian couple, Corrine and Samuel, who adopted Celie’s children, Adam and Olivia. While Albert and Grady go out to the bar, Shug and Celie search the house and find a hidden compartment under the floorboards with pornography, money and all of Nettie’s letters. Nettie tells of her travels to Africa, their missionary work, the kids, commercial development that destroyed their homes and church, Corrine’s passing and their uncertainty about being allowed back into the USA upon their return. Engrossed in reading Nettie’s letters, Celie does not hear Albert’s calls to shave him and he beats her. While Celie sharpens the blade, Albert berates her. Shug, elsewhere on the property, learns from the kids that Albert’s about to get shaved. Sensing trouble she rushes to the house and stops Celie from killing Albert.

At a family dinner that includes the extended Johnson family, Sofia and family and Shug and Grady, Celie finally speaks up against Albert, to Shug and Sofia’s delight, who breaks her silence and finds her old fighting spirit, which prompts Harpo’s new wife to stand up for herself as well. Albert continues to berate Celie, who then threatens Albert and curses him. Shug and Grady drive away, taking Celie with them.

Time passes. Celie travels by train and seems happy, while Albert is old and alone, and his house derelict. As drunk Albert leaves Harpo’s bar that he now runs with Sofia, he finally says something nice about Sofia.

Celie’s father passes away and Celie recalls Nettie writing that that man, who fathered 2 children with her, wasn’t her real father. After the funeral the widow leaves and tells Celie the house and land is hers now, as it belonged to her real father, who left it to her mother, who in turn left it to Celie and Nettie. Celie opens a tailoring shop and sees Albert outside, who waves at her awkwardly.

After not having performed in years Shug starts singing at Harpo’s bar again. When the neighbouring church breaks out in song, Shug joins in and leads the bar crowd to the church, where Shug reconciles with the reverend. Albert receives a letter from Nettie addressed to Celie, takes money from his secret stash and helps Nettie, Adam and his African wife, Olivia and their adoptive father return to the USA, where they finally reunite. Albert watches from a distance.



The film premiered on December 20, 1985, and went on general release on February 7, 1986.[4] The Color Purple was shown at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival as a non-competing title.[5]


Box office[edit]

The Color Purple was a success at the box office, staying in U.S. theaters for 21 weeks,[4] and grossing over $142 million worldwide.[6] In terms of box office income, it ranked as the #1 rated PG-13 film released in 1985, and #4 overall.[4]

Critical response[edit]

The film received positive reviews from critics, receiving praise for its acting, direction, screenplay, score, and production merits, but was criticized by some for being "over-sentimental" and "stereotypical." Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 85% based on reviews from 27 critics, with an average score of 6.9/10. The website's critical consensus states: "A sentimental tale that reveals great emotional truths in American history."[8] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 78 out of 100, based on 8 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[9]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film four stars, calling it "the year's best film." He also praised Whoopi Goldberg, calling her role "one of the most amazing debut performances in movie history" and predicting she would win the Academy Award for Best Actress. (She was nominated but did not win.) Ebert wrote of The Color Purple:

The world of Celie and the others is created so forcibly in this movie that their corner of the South becomes one of those movie places — like Oz, like Tara, like Casablanca — that lay claim to their own geography in our imaginations. The affirmation at the end of the film is so joyous that this is one of the few movies in a long time that inspires tears of happiness, and earns them.[10]

Ebert's long-time television collaborator, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, praised the film as "triumphantly emotional and brave," calling it Spielberg's "successful attempt to enlarge his reputation as a director of youthful entertainments." Siskel wrote that The Color Purple was "a plea for respect for black women." Although acknowledging that the film was a period drama, he praised its "... incredibly strong stand against the way black men treat black women. Cruel is too kind a word to describe their behavior. The principal black men in The Color Purple use their women — both wives and daughters — as sexual chattel."[11]

New York Times film critic Janet Maslin noted the film's divergence from Walker's book, but made the case that this shift works:

Mr. Spielberg has looked on the sunny side of Miss Walker's novel, fashioning a grand, multi-hanky entertainment that is as pretty and lavish as the book is plain. If the book is set in the harsh, impoverished atmosphere of rural Georgia, the movie unfolds in a cozy, comfortable, flower-filled wonderland. ... Some parts of it are rapturous and stirring, others hugely improbable, and the film moves unpredictably from one mode to another. From another director, this might be fatally confusing, but Mr. Spielberg's showmanship is still with him. Although the combination of his sensibilities and Miss Walker's amounts to a colossal mismatch, Mr. Spielberg's Color Purple manages to have momentum, warmth and staying power all the same.[12]

Variety found the film over-sentimental, writing, "there are some great scenes and great performances in The Color Purple, but it is not a great film. Steven Spielberg's turn at 'serious' film-making is marred in more than one place by overblown production that threatens to drown in its own emotions."[13]

In addition, some critics alleged that the movie stereotyped black people in general[14] and black men in particular,[15] pointing to the fact that Spielberg, a Jew, had directed a predominantly African American story.[16]

Filmmaker Oliver Stone defended The Color Purple as "an excellent movie, and it was an attempt to deal with an issue that had been overlooked, and it wouldn't have been done if it hadn't been Spielberg. And it's not like everyone says, that he ruined the book. That's horseshit. Nobody was going to do the book. He made the book live again."[17]

In 2004, Ebert included The Color Purple in his list of "Great Movies". He stated that "I can see its flaws more easily than when I named it the best film of 1985, but I can also understand why it moved me so deeply, and why the greatness of some films depends not on their perfection or logic, but on their heart."[18]


The Color Purple was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Goldberg and Best Supporting Actress for both Avery and Winfrey.[19] It failed to win any of them, tying the record set by 1977's The Turning Point for the most Oscar nominations without a single win.[15] The film was also nominated for four Golden Globe Awards at the 43rd Golden Globe Awards, with Whoopi Goldberg winning Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.[20]

Meyjes was also nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 40th awards ceremony and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 38th awards ceremony.

Spielberg received his first Directors Guild of America Award at the 38th awards ceremony for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. He became the first director to win the award without even being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.

The Color Purple at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient Outcome
Academy Awards March 24, 1986 Best Picture Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Quincy Jones Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Whoopi Goldberg
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Margaret Avery
Oprah Winfrey
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Menno Meyjes
Best Cinematography Allen Daviau
Best Art Direction – Set Decoration J. Michael Riva, Bo Welch and Linda DeScenna
Best Costume Design Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Best Makeup Ken Chase
Best Music, Original Score Quincy Jones, Jeremy Lubbock, Rod Temperton, Caiphus Semenya, Andraé Crouch, Chris Boardman, Jorge Calandrelli, Joel Rosenbaum, Fred Steiner, Jack Hayes, Jerry Hey and Randy Kerber
Best Music, Original Song Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton and Lionel Richie
For the song "Miss Celie's Blues"
Golden Globe Awards January 24, 1986 Best Motion Picture – Drama
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Whoopi Goldberg Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Steven Spielberg
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Quincy Jones

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THE COLOR PURPLE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. April 10, 1986. Retrieved March 16, 2016.
  2. ^ "The Color Purple filming locations". The 80s Movie Rewind. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
  3. ^ Corliss, Richard (Dec 23, 1985). "Cinema: The Three Faces of Steve the Color Purple". Time. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
  4. ^ a b c "The Color Purple". Box Office Mojo. Accessed Dec. 9, 2011.
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The". Retrieved 2009-07-18.
  6. ^ Matthews, Jack (Dec 25, 1985). "A Strong Start for 'Color Purple' in Christmas Box Office Race". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
  7. ^ "Alice Walker". Desert Island Discs. 19 May 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
  8. ^ "The Color Purple (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 2018-03-02.
  9. ^ "The Color Purple Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved March 2, 2018.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (Dec 20, 1985). "The Color Purple". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
  11. ^ Siskel, Gene (Dec 20, 1985). "Color Purple: Powerful, Daring, Sweetly Uplifting". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
  12. ^ Maslin, Janet (Dec 18, 1985). "Film: 'The Color Purple,' from Steven Spielberg". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
  13. ^ "The Color Purple". Variety. Dec 31, 1984. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
  14. ^ Clegg II, Legrand H.(Chairman, Coalition Against Black Exploitation, Compton) (Feb 16, 1986). "Bad Black Roles In 'Purple'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
  15. ^ a b Friendly, David T. (Mar 27, 1986). "Academy Hits Racism Accusation". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
  16. ^ Matthews, Jack (Jan 31, 1986). "3 'Color Purple' Actresses Talk About Its Impact". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
  17. ^ Cooper, Marc. Oliver Stone interview from Playboy Magazine (1988), in Stone, Oliver and Silet, Charles L.P., editors. Oliver Stone—Interviews, University Press of Mississippi (2006), p. 87.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (28 March 2015). "The Color Purple Movie Review (1985)". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  19. ^ "'Out of Africa' Ties as Oscar Nominees: 11 Citations; Spielberg Not Named". The Los Angeles Times. Feb 5, 1986. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
  20. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1986 Golden Globes". Retrieved 2018-09-16.

External links[edit]