Original release: December 18th, 1985
Running time: 154 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Menno Meyjes
Music: Quincy Jones
Cast: Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, Willard. E. Pugh
The most interesting and striking aspect of period films is that they allow their plot to evolve along with the film, giving us an account of how the values of mankind have unfolded during the course of history. It’s also one of the most painstaking genres as it not only undergoes a lot of research in the lifestyles during that time and history of the nation under subject so as to avoid any factual errors associated with it, it also balances the narrative in the right direction.
If some of Spielberg’s other films are spoken of for their magnificence, this film is spoken of for its sheer simplicity. After a series of sci-fi thrillers and adventures, he breaks the shackles to produce an absolute gem in the drama genre. The Color Purple, set in the period between 1909 and the 1930s, is the story of Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), who also narrates. Being set in different periods, it gives us a glimpse of different people at different stages of their lives at that time and does so quite brilliantly.
Celie is a struggling African woman, growing up in the midst of a male-chauvinistic society and tolerant to all the hardships as her life progresses. In spite of all the difficulties she faces in her life, like being conceived by her own dad, losing her mom at an early age or marrying an arrogant widower, Albert (Danny Glover), she is always concerned for and shows love to her sister, Nettie (Akosua basia).
As they become separated, due to Celie’s husband, how the sisters lives, and the lives of their families, from there on take its course, forms the rest of this epic drama.
Whoopi Goldberg delivers a powerful performance in portraying this modest, shy, tolerant and yet bold woman in the clutches of an autocratic husband. Even suffering through the atrocities caused by him, she remains stubborn and sometimes, sees the lighter side of it. Her evolution from a fragile girl into a strong woman gives you a perfect example how the hardships of life mould you to an even stronger person. You can see this gradual evolution in her character and attitude as time and people pass by her.
Albert is a husband who considers his wife as an ugly, dark woman and treats her as a slave, demonstrating the attitude of the men towards the women at that time. The scene where Celie erupts in anger at the dining table against him shows she has nothing to lose and takes the bold step; she was literally a slave these years. All these traits which Whoopi Goldberg has realistically brought to the screen makes her performance deserving of the praise it has received.
Later on, Albert becomes attracted a dancer, Shug Avery, played by Margaret Avery. Though Avery’s part in the film is a supporting one, she has used it to the fullest extent to make her presence felt (not to forget the poetic and subtle encounter of affection with Celie). Though there are so many supporting cast members in the film, some of them make a greater impact on us, like Harpo (Willard E. Pugh), as son of Albert and Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), his wife. Oprah brings us yet another dimension of womanhood during those times as a stubborn wife who thinks whatever she does is right and will be.
Music and the movies of Spielberg always go hand in hand and The Color Purple is no exception, thanks to Quincy Jones. Excellent visual aesthetics, thanks to Allen Daviau and excellent art direction that corresponds to the different times which makes us feel involved in the film. The most striking aspect has to be the screenplay by Menno meyjes. Though it is based on a novel, the pacing of the film is neither so fast to follow nor sluggish.
The Color Purple solely deals with sensitive topics like slavery, racism and male-chauvinism which was most prevalent among the human society in the 20th century, I can see even some of the issues that’s still rampant in many parts of our world even today. Moreover, in reality, each character in this film teaches us how to and how not to lead your life.
Women-centric films are hard to come by these days and this is one of the rare treasures to be cherished in spite of some clichés in it. If The Color Purple made such a huge impact for me, it will for others too who want to have a look at this wonderful film. My only regret was that I haven’t watched it until now.
Venkateshwaran is a spoilt engineer who enjoys life through watching movies. He is a lover of world cinema with a passion for films spanning different genres which he will recommend to anyone and everyone around him.