Directed by: Blitz Bazawule
Written by: Marcus Gardley
Starring: Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, H.E.R.
Released: January 25, 2024
Grade: B

The Colour Purple

African American author Alice Walker moved to a quiet part of Northern California in the late 1970s and while there, she wrote The Colour Purple.  The narrative was inspired by the relationship of her own grandparents and, since its first publication in 1982, the novel has defined her long and successful career.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 and millions of copies have been bought across the world.

Like so many great pieces of literature, Walker’s work has been interpreted via other artistic mediums.  A 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg earned 11 Academy Award nominations (winning none) while a 2005 Broadway musical was similarly honoured.  The production was updated in 2016 and, in launching the career of star Cynthia Erivo, took home the Tony Awards for best actress and best revival of a musical.

The time has now come to take the Broadway show and transform it back into a movie.  It adopts a similar approach to the recently released Mean Girls in that the songs have been parred back to create a part-musical, part-drama.  Ghanaian filmmaker Blitz Bazawule (Black is King) gets the chance to direct while singer-turned-actor Fantasia Barrino makes her feature film debut in the lead role.  Other notables to appear include Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures), Colman Domingo (If Beale Street Could Talk), and 87-year-old Louis Gossett Jr (An Officer and a Gentleman).

The challenge of taking a 300-page book and condensing it into a 140-minute movie (with time for songs) is evident.  There just isn’t an opportunity to sufficiently explore romantic flings and surprising reconciliations.  The fact it’s spread across several decades makes it even tougher.

Thankfully, the film still carries a strong emotional heartbeat because of Barrino’s central performance as Celie.  Through her demeanour and facial expressions, we feel the suffering when she is abused, and feel the joy when given the chance to make a decision independent of the domineering men around her.  If new to the tale, it chronicles the trials and tribulations of her extremely tough life.

The other performance receiving attention this awards season is that of Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black) who is also very good as Celie’s spirited friend, Sofia.  With a flashy, overly exuberant personality, her character pops up at just the right time to add an energy boost.  She’s ticked off all the precursors and should earn an invite to the upcoming Academy Awards when the nominees are announced later this week.

Not really improving on Spielberg’s 1985 film, The Colour Purple is good… but not groundbreaking.