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The Color Purple is a American period drama film directed by Steven Spielberg. It is the eighth film directed by Spielberg and is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker. The film tells the story of a young African American girl named Celie and shows the problems faced by African American women during the early 1900s; including poverty, racism, and sexism. The character Celie is transformed as she finds her self-worth through the help of two strong female companions.


Taking place in the Southern United States during the early- to mid-1900s, this movie tells the life of a poor African American girl, Celie Harris (Whoopi Goldberg), whose abuse begins when she is young. By the time she is fourteen, she has already had two children by her father (Leonard Jackson) (later discovered to be her stepfather), who takes them away from her at childbirth and forces Celie to marry a local widower named Albert Johnson, whom she calls "Mister" (Danny Glover). Albert, who had his eyes on Celie's younger, more attractive sister Nettie (Akosua Busia), treats Celie like a slave, making her clean up his disorderly household and take care of his unruly children. Albert beats her often, intimidating Celie into near silence and submission. Nettie comes to live with them, and there is a brief period of happiness as the sisters spend time together and Nettie begins to teach Celie how to read. This is short-lived, however; after Nettie refuses Albert's predatory affections once too often, he kicks her out.

Albert's old flame, the jazz singer Shug Avery (Margaret Avery), for whom Albert has carried a torch for many years, comes to live with him and Celie. Delirious with sickness, Shug initially insults Celie by saying "you sure is ugly" on their first meeting, but they eventually become close friends and Shug helps Celie begin to see her worth as a human being. Shug and Celie also entertain a lesbian affair (this was more pronounced in the book, and is only hinted at in the film). Celie also finds strength in Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), who marries Albert's son Harpo (Willard E. Pugh). Sofia has also suffered abuse from the men in her family, but unlike Celie, she refuses to tolerate it. This high-spiritedness proves to be her downfall, however, as a rude remark to the town mayor's wife and a punch to the mayor himself ends with Sofia in jail.

Nettie, meanwhile, has been living with missionaries in Africa and writing to Celie often. Unbeknownst to Celie, Albert confiscates Nettie's letters, telling Celie that she will never hear from her sister again. During a visit from Shug and her new husband, Grady, Celie and Shug discover many years' worth of Nettie's correspondence. Reconnecting with her sister and the assurance that she is still alive helps give Celie the strength to stand up to Albert. She almost slits his throat while giving him a shave, and is only to be stopped by Shug. During a family dinner Sofia is shown to be prematurely aged and permanently disfigured due to the severe beatings she received in jail, and demoralized into an almost catatonic state. During this dinner, Celie finally asserts herself, excoriating Albert and his father. Shug informs Albert that they are leaving, and that Celie is coming with them, despite Albert's attempts to verbally abuse Celie into submission, Celie stands up to Albert and leaves permanently. This also snaps Sofia out of her funk as she laughs hysterically at a dumbfounded and embarrassed Albert and is back to normal.

Celie opens up a haberdashery selling "one size fits all" slacks. Upon the death of her father, she learns that he was, in fact, her stepfather, and that she has inherited a house and shop from her real father. Meanwhile, Albert's fields and home languish into almost nonexistence as he slips into alcohol-fueled idleness, spending most of his time at Harpo's speakeasy. Years of guilt finally catch up to Albert, knowing he has been a horrible person most of his life, especially to Celie. In a sudden act of kindness unknown to Celie, Albert takes all the money he has saved over the years, goes down to the immigration office, and arranges for a family reunion for Celie. Nettie and Celie's children, Adam and Olivia, who were raised in Africa, are reunited with Celie. Albert looks on from a distance, smiling at seeing Celie finally happy.


Awards and reception

Though the film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Goldberg and Best Supporting Actress for both Avery and Winfrey; it did not win any.

Spielberg was awarded the Directors Guild of America Award for Best Motion Picture Director, his first.

The Color Purple was also nominated for five Golden Globes, including Best Picture (Drama), Best Director for Spielberg, and Best Supporting Actress for Winfrey. Its only win went to Goldberg for Best Actress (Drama).

The film was screened out of competition at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.

Differences from the novel

  • "Mister" is not given a full name in the novel. In fact, a blank is in place where his name would be. However, in the book Shug refers to him as Albert and Celie writes that she didn't know that was his name. In the film, he is called "Albert" by Shug and others, and the "Johnson" surname is clearly seen on the mailbox and mail he receives.
  • The scene where Mister separates Celie and Nettie, then throws Nettie off his farm, did not happen in the novel. Instead, Nettie runs away before Mister had the chance. The reason for her sudden departure is the same as it was in the movie (with Nettie hitting Mister), but it isn't revealed until later on in the novel when Celie is reading her letters.
  • The novel goes into more details concerning Nettie's time in Africa, including her subsequent marriage to the Reverend after Corrine dies.
  • The novel also reveals that Corrine thought that Olivia and Adam were Nettie's children (not Celie's) because they look like her. This is the reason they allowed Nettie to join them for the missionary trip to Africa.
  • The scene where Celie meets Corrine and Olivia in the store, Olivia is a baby. In the novel, she is six years old.
  • The novel details the relationship between Grady, Shug's husband, and Squeak, Harpo's girlfriend. They get together and move to Panama where he grows marijuana. Eventually Squeak leaves him and returns to the US.
  • In the novel, Shug runs off with a young man named Germaine, then returns back to Celie.
  • In the novel, Mister did not have anything to do with Nettie's return to the US.
  • In the novel, Mister is actually with Celie and company when Celie is reunited with Nettie and her children, while in the movie, he watches the reunion from a distance, noticed only by Shug.
  • In the novel, Mister's father only appears in the scene on the porch, whereas in the movie, he also appears in the Easter dinner scene, and once more in the scene where Mister has fallen into an alcoholic haze after Celie leaves him.
  • In the novel, Celie's sexual development towards lesbianism and her relationship with Shug Avery are given much more prominence, whereas they are almost non-existent in the film.
  • In the novel, Celie's religious development from a patriarchal belief system to the more nature-oriented pantheism is given more prominence.

See also


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