The Color Purple Review

The Color Purple
The Color Purple
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There’s always been something of the musical about Steven Spielberg’s 1985 version of The Color Purple. There are a couple of songs, that look sweet and play down the grown-up parts (domestic abuse and lesbianism) in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to push up the book’s uplift factor to maximum. It is Spielberg’s film that has served as inspiration for this musical adaptation of Tony winner who is also known for Broadway hit, rather than the novel itself; it turns out to be an exhilaratingly crafted take that eventually becomes poignant.

Blitz Bazawule in his debut feature starts his story on the striking Georgia coastline which is miles away from green fields so loved by Spielberg. This story sticks closely to Walker’s narrative in terms of plot if not tone: married to Mister (Colman Domingo), beaten-down Celie (American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino) slowly draws strength from two women who are most significant in her life – her husband’s mistress Shug Avery (Taraji P Hensen) and Sofia- a brave woman who ignores conventions (Danielle Brooks).

However, we may wish for the relationship between Celie and Shug to be more than just platonic when looking at it through those age-old lenses of popular musicals; Sofia’s tragic tale is told without any gore or even violence shown in front of the camera while dramatic moments like when Celie shaves Mister with a razor blade do not impress much. Instead, he uses these magical realist touches where pictures move and letters become alive all together with performances and music hence Bazawule has got people hooked on this one too because they get drawn into the characters’ lives; By the time you get to that superbly staged dining-room climax, you are hooked.

When she sings and dances, The Color Purple takes off. Bazawule who worked with Beyonce on Black is King, opening/Mysterious Ways in the visual album gave his best shot by bringing to life a vibrant and gospel-infused track of ‘Opening/Mysterious Ways’ which is dominated by color-coded costumes and dynamic framing. Among other musical highlights include Sofia’s stomping rejection of male violence in “Hell No!”, Shug’s cheeky number ‘Push Da Button’ and some flights of fantasy: one number is staged on a giant gramophone, while another blows up into a full-blown RKO musical extravaganza. There is even an allusion to Spielberg’s version with Shug singing ‘Miss Celie’s Blues’, her delicious song from Spielberg’s 1985 flick.

The three main actors are good. Henson gives an excellent performance as Shug, whereas Brooks plays Sophia powerfully without falling into stereotypes. However, like Whoopi Goldberg playing Celie previously in 1985, Barrino owns this role entirely as her own by beautifully portraying Celie’s transition from being a servant to having self-awareness. When it comes to her showstopper “I’m Here” Bazawule has the sense to settle down his camera and let Barrino loose. She is just amazing.

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