Alice Walker’s timeless novel “The Color Purple” is returning to the big screen for the first time in four decades.
Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated 1985 adaptation followed a young Black woman named Celie (then played by Whoopi Goldberg) trying to find her identity in rural Georgia while coping with her abusive father and the prejudices of the post-Antebellum South and forming a close connection with jazz singer Shug. A stage musical adaptation of Walker’s book debuted on Broadway in 2005, with Celie played by the likes of LaChanze and Cynthia Erivo throughout its run and revival. Now, in director Blitz Bazawule’s Warner Bros. film version of the musical (out Christmas Day), R&B star Fantasia Barrino, who appeared on Broadway in the show from 2007 to 2008 and then in the national tour two years later, takes on the role of Celie, with Taraji P. Henson as Shug. Watch the first official trailer for “The Color Purple” below.
Producer Oprah Winfrey and director Bazawule shared the trailer exclusively during a virtual event on May 22. The footage showcases the film’s epic cast across a time-spanning narrative, with exuberant fantasy and dream sequences and images of the young Celie (played by “The Little Mermaid” breakout Halle Bailey) juxtaposed with an older Celie, who escapes her present into soul-stirring musical reverie.
During the trailer launch, Winfrey promised a “reimagined, bold new take on ‘The Color Purple’ almost 40 years later,” adding, “As long as there is a need for people to feel what it means to be loved up… there will be a need for ‘The Color Purple.’ We have our iteration coming out on December 25, and I believe that in the future, this story just grows, and it never grows old.”
Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, Danielle Brooks, H.E.R., Ciara, Bailey, Louis Gosset Jr., David Alan Grier, Aunjanue Ellis, and many more round out the star-studded cast. Bazawule previously directed segments of Beyoncé’s visual album “Black Is King” and the celebrated 2018 Ghanaian feature “The Burial of Kojo.” Producers of 2023’s “The Color Purple” include Winfrey, Spielberg, Quincy Jones, and Scott Sanders, with cinematography by Guillermo del Toro regular Dan Laustsen.
“American Idol” breakout Barrino has long been an advocate for abuse survivors, previously revealing her own experiences with sexual assault as a teenager. “I came from sexual assault as a young girl. I came from domestic abuse. And I learned through this movie that not only could I heal, but I could forgive,” Winfrey recalled Barrino saying in early conversations about the production.
Winfrey said Bazawule “was like the fifth or sixth director” they’d spoken to about heading up the film. “Blitz presented these storyboards, and within five minutes of Zooming with him, I was texting [producer] Scott Sanders and everybody else, ‘Oh my god, this is the guy.'”
“You dream of things like this, and then they happen,” Bazawule said. “The obvious instinct is to go, ‘Well, that can’t be me,” he said. “The bar is so high… But first I read the script and said, ‘I see what [screenwriter] Marcus [Gardley] is trying to do here,’ and of course, I sat with Steven and Oprah and Scott Sanders and the Warner Bros. team, and it was clear they were really going to allow us to expand the canon of ‘The Color Purple,’ which first began with, ‘How do we create an internal headspace for Celie?'”
Bazawule added, “I wanted to create the most epic, boldest visual motifs… Someone called it ‘magical realist,’ that was kind of what we leaned into.” He said he wanted to “create some level of parallel between the music and the character,” leaning on the greats of gospel and blues to fuse the songs with the images. “When you put it all together, you have a tapestry that’s beautiful, that’s joyous…that’s healing.”
The screenplay comes from Marcus Gardley (“Maid,” “The Chi”), who adapts stage adaptation with a book Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray.
As Spielberg’s “Color Purple” earned 11 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Warner Bros. is surely eyeing a serious awards contender here.