In a highly anticipated reveal, the first trailer for the upcoming musical adaptation of “The Color Purple,” produced by Oprah Winfrey and directed by Steven Spielberg, has taken the stage. Since its original publication and subsequent Pulitzer Prize win in 1983, Alice Walker’s groundbreaking novel has left an indelible mark on both literature and popular culture. The 1985 film adaptation, starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, earned an impressive 11 Oscar nominations, while the 2005 Broadway musical, crafted by Marsha Johnson and based on Walker’s work, claimed a Tony award.
The narrative, now reimagined by Marcus Gardley, with the musical book by Marsha Norman, centers around Celie, an African-American woman living in rural Georgia during the early to mid-20th century. Celie’s journey unfolds as she navigates a life forged through adversity, starting with her marriage to the antagonist, Mister, which saves her sister Nettie from a similar fate. Along the way, Celie forms an intimate bond with Shug, Mister’s long-time lover, and finds solace in a heartfelt friendship with her neighbor Sofia.
Returning to reprise their acclaimed roles are Fantasia Barrino, who portrayed Celie in the original Broadway production, and Danielle Brooks, known for her portrayal of Sofia in the 2015 revival. Joining the ensemble cast is the talented Taraji P. Henson, celebrated for her performance in “Hidden Figures,” taking on the role of Shug. Halle Bailey from “The Little Mermaid” embraces the younger Nettie, while singer Ciara embodies her adult counterpart.
Although the first trailer offers only a tantalizing glimpse of the film’s action, the magnetic performances by Henson and Barrino foreshadow potential nominations in the upcoming awards season. However, some concerned fans worry that the vital queer storyline between Celie and Shug may be diminished or omitted. These concerns stem from the 1985 film adaptation, which drastically downplayed their romantic relationship, reducing it to a single kiss.
Reflecting on the criticism he received from the LGBTQ+ community and beyond, Spielberg acknowledged his hesitation in fully realizing the deeply intimate encounters between Shug and Celie. He admitted to softening those moments, regretting the missed opportunity to authentically depict their erotic and purposeful connection. Meanwhile, the Broadway musical remained faithful to the novel’s lesbian roots but encountered controversy in 2019 when actor Seyi Omooba, cast as Celie in the UK production, made homophobic remarks and refused to portray a lesbian character. As the movie musical is penned by openly gay screenwriter Marcus Gardley, renowned for his LGBTQ+-inclusive shows like “Tales of the City,” queer fans hold hope for an authentic portrayal of the story.
Providing a glimpse of what lies ahead, Fantasia Barrino teased that viewers can expect a rollercoaster of emotions, from laughter to tears, and emphasized the ultimate healing the film imparts. Oprah Winfrey, who holds a deeply personal connection to “The Color Purple” since her involvement in the 1985 adaptation, promised a cinematic experience filled with magical realism, heartwarming family dynamics, and an extraordinary ensemble of talented actors.
Mark your calendars for the much-anticipated release of “The Color Purple” in the United States on December 25th, 2023, followed by its debut in UK cinemas on January 26th, 2024. Prepare to embark on a transformative journey of love, resilience, and personal growth, as this remarkable tale captivates audiences once more.