The Color Purple (1985)

color purple poster 1985 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Spielberg takes a turn and it works, good cast


Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Color Purple

Studio:  Warner Bros/Amblin Entertainment/The Guber-Peters Company

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  December 16, 1985 (Premiere)/December 18, 1985 (US)

MPAA Rating:  PG-13

color purple nettie celie tree carving descreta jackson akosua busia

Best Friends Forever…until a husband bans his child bride from seeing her

Celie Harris (Desreta Jackson) and her sister Nettie (Akosua Busia) were the best of friends.  After her second pregnancy at her father’s hands, Celie is married off to Albert “Mister” Johnson (Danny Glover) and forced to raise his children.  As Celie (Whoopie Goldberg) withers under, Mister’s abusive reign, Nettie disappears from Celie’s life, but Mister’s mistress Shug Avery (Margaret Avery) moves in…and forms a bond with Celie.  Mister’s son Harpo (Willard E. Pugh) also has a woman in his life named Sofia (Oprah Winfrey) who has her own opinions on how women should be treated by their husbands.  Celie questions if there is more to life and if she can endure the losses she’s experienced…as time moves slowly by.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Color Purple is a period drama.  Following Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, the film is an adaptation of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel.  It received eleven Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Goldberg), Best Supporting Actress (Winfrey and Avery), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best makeup, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song (“Miss Celie’s Blues”), but the film won no Academy Awards.

color purple mob sofia oprah winfrey

Oprah takes no guff…until she has to

The Color Purple was Spielberg’s first really big dramatic turn.  He had received multiple Oscar nominations on various films, but The Color Purple felt different.  As a kid, Spielberg movies were exciting when they were released, but The Color Purple didn’t have the same big feel that his more special effects type movies…but it is a good turn.

The movie still has a lot of the Spielberg heart that his earlier pictures have.  The adaptation of the book means it doesn’t have Spielberg inserted into it like a lot of his other pictures and now might be kind of critical that a black director wasn’t telling the story…but a mostly all-Black cast in a big budget movie in 1985 (Spielberg was reluctant and Walker was reluctant to sell it in Hollywood).  The movie still managed to have the nuances and emotion that was necessary.

The cast is also at their best.  Whoopi Goldberg had only been a stand-up comedian at the time and made very little screen appearances…but she is great as the meek Celia who is trying to find her voice.  While Oprah Winfrey’s character is brasher, she also is beaten into submission (literally).  Margaret Avery’s Shug is the contrast.  She is loud and outspoken and loved for it.  Most of the men in Celia’s life are not good, and Danny Glover’s Mister is shown to be her biggest abuser (though I would argue her “father” is since he sexually assaulted her repeatedly and then sent her off to Mister).  The movie also features appearances by Laurence Fishburne and Rae Dawn Chong.

color purple shug celie kiss whoopie goldberg margaret avery

It is good this is subtle, but it also is something that could be explored more

The movie looks great.  Spielberg was also worried about telling a story of the South, but he seems to capture a lot of the beauty and weirdness of the South.  While racism (and systematic racism) is at the core of a lot of the character’s problems, much of the events of the movie are on the small southern farm which feels real…but it gives off a real family vibe (even if the family is highly dysfunctional).

The Color Purple has held up well since it was set in the past to begin with.  It is a great example of expectations and how a movie can subvert expectations to be something great as well.  If you never saw The Color Purple, don’t miss it.  It is a movie that showed Spielberg’s other direction early on…and gave him more depth and credit in the film community.  Spielberg followed The Color Purple with Empire of the Sun in 1987.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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