“The Color Purple”: a four-star cast, but little emotion, Jeune Afrique

“The Color Purple”: a four-star cast, but little emotion

The Color Purple has had several lives: it is, first of all, a book written by Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize in 1983, then a film by Steven Spielberg, released in 1985 and nominated eleven times for the Oscars, then a musical comedy rewarded with multiple Tony Awards and performed several times around the world. The latest avatar of this successful work which spans the ages is yet another musical comedy, this time by Samuel “Blitz” Bazawule, also known under the pseudonym Blitz The Ambassador.

The Spielberg precedent

Spielberg's feature film had marked un turning point in the career of the man who turned everything he filmed into gold. Director of blockbusters like Jaws, the first two opuses of Indiana Jones or even NA, he opened a more intimate chapter of his work with The Color Purple. He had, at first, refused to embark on this project because he did not feel the legitimacy necessary to address the destiny of African-Americans in the “deep South” of the United States. He had finally agreed to enlist, at the urging of Alice Walker... but in se paying minimum wage.

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Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover…

The cast looked like a dream team before the hour : Oprah Winfrey et Whoopi Goldberg played their first role there, Danny Glover was at the very beginning of his career, and the “legend” Quincy Jones composed the music and was among the producers (he was already, among others, that of thriller, de Michael Jackson).

The Color Purple was a hit at the box office, but, beyond the figures, the film was a precursor in several respects: the leading roles were mainly female and African-American ; it dealt with domestic violence, male domination, incest; finally, it featured two women who form a romantic relationship. Like The bluest eye, the first novel of Toni Morrison, this far from smooth image provoked some mixed reactions within the African-American community, even if it became a classic.

"La Couleur pourpre", long-métrage du Ghanéen Blitz Bazawule. © Courtesy of Warner Bros

“The Color Purple”, feature film by Ghanaian Blitz Bazawule. © Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Musical version

In the current version, which takes the form of a musical, we find Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, this time on production. He is the young Ghanaian director and protean artist Flash Bazawule holding the camera. The screenplay comes from the novel by Alice Walker, as well as the libretto and dialogues by Marsha Norman for the show part.

Celie and Nettie are sisters. Celie is the victim of abuse at the hands of her father, with whom she had two children. These were taken from him at birth and sent to an unknown destination. Given in marriage to “Mister”, preceded by a reputation as a “devil”, she is mistreated, and becomes his servant and that of his three children. Un In the evening, Nettie, whom her father has just tried to rape, rings Mister's doorbell. The latter, who already coveted her, tries to attack her in turn. Nettie is chased away in the middle of the night, during a storm. She promises her sister to write to her every day. But did she even survive?

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We're on Broadway!

The saga unfolds from 1909 to 1947. The introductory song, “The ways (and voices) of the Lord are inscrutable,” sets the tone and theme of the film. The multiple twists and turns give the plot a certain epic breath, and the interpretation of the actors – acting, singing, dancing – is remarkable. We're on Broadway! Fantasy Barrino, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks and Halle bailey  shine in a four-star female cast.

But in the strength of this Purple color also lie its weaknesses. The decision to make it a musical comedy attenuates its dramatic impact. It happens that right after a sad scene the characters sing and twirl. Contradictory emotions follow one another... and cancel each other out. Sometimes, it is within the same scene that the conflict is located of feelings: the condition of black workers in the fields is so well choreographed and interpreted that we don't know whether to swing or cry about the fate of these people who break their backs plowing the land.

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Revolting injustice

The strongest moment is when Sofia, a strong head who resists all men, including her husband – a boxer whom she married as a second wife – refuses to become the governess of the mayor's children. To support her refusal, she tells the councilor's wife a monumental slap in the face. This reaction of pride immediately turns against her: a police officer knocks her out with a baton which will scar her for life. Imprisoned, she becomes mute, and, upon leaving her long incarceration, suffers the terrible affront of having to work for the very person who is at the origin of her misfortune. Filmed unvarnished, the injustice is all the more revolting, and the inevitability of white racial domination is glaring.

The musical version of The Color Purple was eagerly awaited, as evidenced by the amount of revenue ($18 million) collected on the day de its release, making it the second highest all-time Christmas box office score in the United States. But the results plummeted the next day, and the fall only worsened in the following days. The mix of genres – too dramatic for a musical, too musical for a drama – undoubtedly explains why, just like us, the spectators were not convinced.

The color purple, by Blitz Bazawule, with Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Halle Bailey. Released in French cinemas on 24 January 2024.

 © © Courtesy of Warner Bros

© © Courtesy of Warner Bros.

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