After a well-regarded debut in the US in December, The Color Purple is on its way to UK cinemas. But it’s not the first major film adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, as fans of Steven Spielberg’s 1985 movie will know.
Both follow the life of Celie, and her journey to self-love and overcoming trauma. However, Blitz Bazawule’s version has some key differences that audiences of the first film will notice. Read on to find out more.
The Color Purple drops in UK cinemas on Friday 26 January 2024. You can pre-order tickets from Cineworld, Odeon, Vue and Picturehouse. US viewers can still catch it in cinemas, with tickets available from AMC and Fandango.
Spoilers for The Color Purple (1985) and The Color Purple (2023) below.
The Color Purple (2023) is a musical
If you’ve missed the trailers, you should be aware that the new film is technically an adaptation of the Broadway musical, which made its debut in 2005 and was revived again in 2015. There are also some original songs sprinkled in there, too.
Fantasia Barrino, who first achieved fame on American Idol, takes on the role of Celie. Alongside her heartbreaking and nuanced performance, she gets some showstopping musical numbers which in many ways replace the extensive narration from the first movie.
Fantasia is joined by fellow heavy hitters Taraji P. Henson and Danielle Brooks as Shug Avery and Sofia respectively. There’s also some highly detailed choreography, with a sprawling cast of swing dancers. You can get a taste of what’s to come in the official trailer:
Celie and Shug’s romantic relationship is not ambiguous
The 1985 film is often criticised for downplaying the queer love affair between Celie and Shug. Thankfully, the 2023 musical does not dance around the subject. The pair kiss, wake up together in the same bed after a seemingly intimate night and have several duets that plainly lay out their shared attraction.
The musical does not deviate completely from the novel by making the pair end up together – they remain as friends and Shug marries Grady. Nonetheless, it’s certainly a sign that things have progressed, and as The LA Times reports, this interpretation is more reflective of Walker’s source material.
Mister and Celie have a deeper reconciliation
Mister is very much the villain of both adaptations of The Color Purple. He separates Celie from her sister Nettie after the latter fights back when he tries to sexually assault her, and he abuses Celie throughout their time together.
When Celie finally stands up to him and leaves, his life begins to fall apart. Eventually, he makes up for his past by paying for the fees to get Nettie back to the US. However, Spielberg’s film shows him doing this quietly, without Celie’s knowledge.
In the latest film, after he makes the arrangements, he visits Celie’s tailoring shop to give her some photos and keepsakes of her sister and the children that were taken away from her. He also purchases a pair of unwanted pants to help the business out, and then wears said awful trousers to the Easter dinner. There, he tells Celie that he’s invited a few more guests, as Nettie and her family arrive to reunite with her.
While this isn’t as gritty as the original, it does speak more to the complexity of forgiveness and truly finding peace.
Nettie’s journey has less time in the spotlight
In Spielberg’s film, Nettie’s life as an adult is explored in more depth – there are entire scenes dedicated to her work as a missionary in Africa.
However, in the 2023 version we only see brief snippets of what Celie reads in the letters that Mister hid from her, when they’re rediscovered by Shug. The focus is much more on the main character’s journey, and what she imagines her sister’s life will be like. In a way, this makes the final reunion scene more impactful.
The musical also leaves out a scene where Nettie teaches Celie to read. This event is very briefly hinted at near the beginning but is nowhere near as in-depth.
There are two new characters of note
One huge change that Bazawule makes is introducing Celie’s mother. She appears in a flashback, teaching the girl to sew – a skill that later influences her career. She also briefly shows up in a mirror, when Celie is looking for guidance after her father passes away.
While the second character doesn’t have as much of a plot impact, it’s a fun Easter egg for fans of the original. Whoopi Goldberg, the actress who played Celie in the original movie, returns to The Color Purple. However, this time she plays the midwife who assists Celie as she gives birth to Adam.