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Give 'The Color Purple' its Oscar already

Kirsten Acuna   

Give 'The Color Purple' its Oscar already
  • Warning: There are mild spoilers ahead for "The Color Purple" remake.
  • The musical is an empowering story of resilience, self-love, and forgiveness.

"The Color Purple" remake aims to accomplish something the original movie couldn't: bring home an Oscar.

1985's "The Color Purple" received 11 Academy Award nominations. It's tied for the most Oscar-nominated movie in history with zero wins. At the time of its release, it was controversial; boycotted for its depiction of Black men, and criticized for its white director, Steven Spielberg.

The remake is a powerful message for a new generation, inspiring anyone who has felt undervalued and unloved to stand tall and forge their own path. If it fails to win an Oscar again, then the Academy has failed this movie twice.

Based on Alice Walker's novel and the Broadway musical of the same name, the film follows a young Black girl, Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi and Fantasia Barrino), in early 1900s Georgia as she's torn from her two children and her beloved sister Nettie (Halle Bailey and Ciara).

We watch Celie's decades-long journey to rise above physical and mental abuse doled out by her father (Deon Cole) and later her husband (Colman Domingo) when two fiery women Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson) and Sofia (Danielle Brooks) enter her life.

But director Blitz Bazawule's version of "The Color Purple," produced by Spielberg and original star Oprah Winfrey, isn't shrouded in misery. It's a celebration of life and resilience without sacrificing the original story, peppered with a few bold tweaks to bring it into the 21st century.

"The Color Purple" tells an empowering, uplifting story told largely through the eyes of its female characters about loving yourself, discovering your voice, and forgiveness.

'The Color Purple' is an inspiring celebration of women and a beautiful exploration of self

"The Color Purple" is, at times, a bit gentler in the gaze it offers of abuse. Celie's baby is no longer ripped from her arms. Instead of suffering a birth in a cold cabin, she has a midwife. The camera pans toward a wall as Celie is taken to bed by her husband. Sofia doesn't get the same eye injury Winfrey's character had in the original and is allowed a jail visit.

But all of these changes are deliberate.

After turning down a remake for years, Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter that the #MeToo movement inspired the revitalization of "The Color Purple" to focus on Celie's dreams instead of her abuse.

And that's felt throughout. There's a fantastical scene in Spielberg's "The Color Purple" where a grown-up Celie envisions her sister's life in Africa with childlike wonder. That's what it's like watching the entirety of Bazawule's adaptation, a larger-than-life spectacle. The movie calls to mind another Warner Bros. classic, Alfonso Cuaron's 1993 "The Little Princess," in which a young girl is forced into servitude, but instills dreams of a better life into those around her.

So much of "The Color Purple" concentrates on the strength, hopes, and perseverance of Black women as they support each other in the face of abuse.

No musical number showcases that better than Brooks' powerful performance of "Hell No," in which her character Sofia declares she won't stand to be hit by her husband as women pop out of nowhere to magically pack her bags and send her on her way. Every musical act contains that same upbeat, confident energy.

As much as "The Color Purple" is a story about overcoming adversity, it's also grounded in Celie's self-exploration and encouragement to give and receive love freely without shame.

The remake covers new ground by leaning into the book's tender romance between Celie and Shug, a subplot that was reduced to a mere kiss in the 1985 picture and resulted in criticism of queer erasure. (Spielberg told Entertainment Weekly in 2011 that he may have been the wrong director to show some of "the more sexually honest encounters" between the pair.)

But 38 years later, "The Color Purple" finally reclaims this narrative on-screen as Celie and Shug explore their intimacy, with Barrino and Henson wowing in a dazzling and emotional duet, "What About Love?"

Henson and Brooks steal every scene and deserve all the awards

Barrino's good here, reprising her role as Celie from a 2007 Broadway run, but Henson and Brooks are knockouts.

Henson commands the screen as the self-assured and sultry Shug Avery from the moment she makes a grand entrance, stepping out of a burgundy convertible.

Every one of her seven songs is a showstopper, with her adorned in equally stunning outfits that should garner designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck an Oscar nod.

Brooks ("Orange Is the New Black") also reprises her Broadway character, Sofia. Another role model to Celie, Brooks' firecracker spirit and sharp tongue silence everyone else when she walks in a room, including her husband, Harpo (Corey Hawkins). Hawkins who should've become a major star after 2015's "Straight Outta Compton," gets a chance to shine here in a big dance number, "Workin'."

Mpasi, who makes her feature-film debut here, and Bailey deliver some of the movie's most ethereal and impressive vocals as young Celie and Nettie, respectively.

Even Domingo, who plays Celie's husband and Shug's lover Mister, is a potential awards contender.

Once he drops an odd accent, the effortlessly charismatic Domingo gives a deeply layered and nuanced performance of a broken man who oozes charm one moment, is menacing the next, and eventually seeks redemption.

Bazawule's reimagining deserves just as many Academy Award nods as its predecessor, only this time the movie should be taking them home on Oscars night, too. With "The Color Purple," Bazawule and his cast deliver a visual feast that seamlessly blends gospel, jazz, and blues into an impressive 31 riveting musical performances and choreographed dance numbers infused with bright colors and costumes that jump off the screen.

Warner Bros. has two musicals in theaters this holiday season. If you only have one musical outing in you, this is the one not to miss.

Grade: A-

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