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The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The Color Purple vibrantly retells literary classic

Protagonist Celie finds her footing as she comes to appreciate the beauty of nature and the world. Celie is empowered to create her own business selling pants.

What’s behind the name of a book? Of a movie? In “The Color Purple,” its name stems from the character Shug Avery’s (Taraji P. Henson) view on religion: God is in everything, and people must love and appreciate everything to really love God, including the color purple, which Avery describes as so beautiful it would be an affront not to notice it in nature.

Released on Dec. 25, 2023 and directed by Blitz Bazawule, “The Color Purple” is a musical film adaptation of a stage musical, which in turn was based on the 1982 novel of the same name. Set in early 20th century rural Georgia, the film follows Celie (Fantasia Barrino) as she resists and overcomes the abuse in her life to become confident in her identity. While I don’t think it’s a dealbreaker, “The Color Purple” does lose some of the depth present in the original novel. Some parts seemed to have been glossed over to increase marketability, which I feel cheapens the message. Still, I thought the film did a good job incorporating musical elements and is a decent adaptation of the novel.

Celie is a poor African-American girl who endures sexual abuse from her stepfather Alphonso (Deon Cole), resulting in two pregnancies. Alphonso takes away her children and marries her off to Mister (Colman Domingo), a cruel man who forbids Celie from communicating with her sister Nettie (Halle Bailey). Celie fights back against Mister and discovers he’d been stealing Nettie’s letters to Celie. Through the letters, Celie learns that Nettie has reconnected with Celie’s children, and enraged by Mister’s deceit, she leaves him and moves in with Avery.

Initially, I thought I’d be off-put by the fact that the film is a musical, but the directors did a surprisingly good job at integrating the more Broadway-esque elements into the film. The musical numbers retain a lot of the choreography present in the stage musical, and I loved the fun and over-the-top nature the choreography brought to songs like “Shug Avery” and “Miss Celie’s Pants.” And while the soundtrack can’t compete with its Broadway counterpart, it’s miles ahead of any other movie musical I’ve seen. Each song does a good job of conveying characters’ motivations and emotions, keeping the narrative vibrant and cohesive.

Well, some characters’ emotions are conveyed better than others. The film is frustratingly vague around certain topics, such as Celie and Avery’s relationship. In the novel, it’s outright stated that both are attracted to women and share a romantic relationship, but their connection in the film is much more ambiguous. There’s a kiss scene between the two, and Celie spends three songs singing about how she likes Avery, but the kiss might’ve actually been part of Celie’s imagination, and the reason behind Celie’s infatuation with Avery is also open-ended. The best way to describe their relationship would probably be “gals who are really good pals.”

I found this portrayal to be incredibly annoying, though not surprising. Compared to the book, there’s lots of subtle attempts at sanitization. Most of Avery and Celie’s conversations, which discussed sexuality, queerness and religion, are cut out. It’s frustrating that peoples’ identities are seen as inappropriate to discuss, especially in a film that’s meant to celebrate identity in the first place. And by changing Celie and Avery’s relationship, some of the emotional depth of the story is lost.

Avery and Celie’s discussions were often also philosophical, and their one conversation that did make it into the film, their discussion on the color purple, is one of the most profound. In the scene, Avery shows Celie that holding onto hatred would only hurt herself in the long run. To truly heal, Celie has to learn to wholeheartedly love both herself and others. The film very much still embodies this message, and Celie is supported and uplifted all the same by her friends’ and family’s love. But Celie never gets to explore coming to terms with who she loves and choosing to love someone who loves her back. It’s just frustrating; the rest of the film is great, but this isn’t a flaw I can really overlook.

The story does lose some of its depth through the adaptation, but it also brings some new and shockingly fun elements to the table. “The Color Purple’s” success in the fact that it retains the core spirit of the novel, one of self-realization and love. I’d still recommend people read the novel over watching the movie, but I’m pleasantly surprised as to how much I like the film’s interpretation.

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