“The Color Purple” Evolution: From Alice Walker’s acclaimed novel to its musical film adaptation
The new musical movie “The Color Purple”—out on Christmas Day—promises to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the holiday season. It tells the story of Celie Harris, a young African American girl who suffers an abusive childhood in Georgia in the early 1900s. Still she rises, experiencing a rebirth into a strong, independent woman later in life. The new film stars Golden Globe nominees Fantasia Barrino and Danielle Brooks, along with Coleman Domingo, Taraji P. Henson and Corey Hawkins.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple has been celebrated by many different genres. Here is its evolution from book to movie to musical and back to the big screen.
The Color Purple: The Book
Published in 1982, Walker’s groundbreaking work chronicles the life of Celie, who suffered physical and mental abuse as a child in the early 20th century. Forced into an abusive marriage, she finally breaks free after connecting with other women: headstrong Sofia and bold performer Shug Avery. Celie’s journey is unveiled through her candid letters to God, giving readers an intimate glance into her inner thoughts and emotions. Walker’s novel won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction.
The Color Purple: The Film
The first movie adaptation of The Color Purple was released in 1985. Starring an all-star cast that includes Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, Oprah Winfrey as Sofia, Danny Glover as Albert, Celie’s abusive husband, Margaret Avery and Rae Dawn Chong, the film gave imagery to the domestic violence, poverty, racism and sexism Black women have often endured. Directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring a score by Quincy Jones, the movie received 11 Academy Award nominations and four Golden Globe Award nods, with Goldberg winning Best Actress in a Drama.
Oprah Winfrey returned to her Color Purple roots to co-produce a musical version of the novel, which made its Broadway debut in 2005. With music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, the original Broadway cast included LaChanze as Celie, Brandon Victor Dixon as Harpo and Renée Elise Goldsberry as Nettie. Barrino, who stars as Celie in the new musical movie, made her Broadway debut in the role.
During its revival in 2015, Jennifer Hudson made her Broadway debut playing Shug, and Brooks starred as Sofia, a role she reprises in the new musical film. Cynthia Erivo won the 2016 Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical” for her portrayal of Celie. The production won the 2016 Tony Award for “Best Revival of a Musical.”