Color Me “Purple,” a tuneful remake

The Color Purple (Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo) – Please get to your local movie theater to see The Color Purple. Yes, it’s a remake. Yes, there was a 2005 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical adapted from the 1982 book of the same name. But this film is highly original, wonderfully tuneful, and surprisingly uplifting.

Produced by Steven Spielberg, director of the original 1985 film; Oprah Winfrey, who gained her unparalleled national fame from that movie; and Quincy Jones, who was one of the musical’s producers, The Color Purple transports the viewer through a 40-year journey in the life of a poor black woman, her abusive husband, her family members, and her female support system.

I didn’t expect to see a musical, thinking I was seeing a new dramatic take on an exceptional film that had earned 11 Academy Award nominations. It was that but, in many ways, it is an adaptation of an adaptation. The jazz and R&B score is both toe-tapping and Oscar worthy. The story is painful, engaging but, ultimately, hopeful. Thus, the risk Director Blitz Bazawule takes is that the soaring score will overwhelm the underlying story. Bazawule, who helmed the visual album Black is King with Beyoncé, handled it well.

The gifted actors include relative newcomers Fantasia Barrino as Celie (known best for her own music videos) and Danielle Brooks as Sophia (who only boasts TV credits). In the original movie, Whoopi Goldberg played Celie while Oprah played Sofia. Both were nominated for Academy Awards. Those are big shoes to fill. The abusive, volatile, drunken, cruel antagonist, Mister, is played by venerable veteran Colman Domingo, who reprises the role played by Danny Glover in the original.

With no big names, the first credit goes to the wonderful Taraji P. Henson. She plays Shug Avery, the one person who escaped this small, rural Southern town, became a huge stage star, and moved to a mansion in Memphis. When she goes back to her hometown to visit, she is the queen. She is the one woman who holds the status to overcome the misogyny of the 1907-1947 time period. That part was originally played by Margaret Avery (yes, Avery played Avery), who got the part when (reportedly) Patti LaBelle and Tina Turner turned it down. She, too, was nominated for an Oscar. Fortunately, none of the performances is imitative; they’re almost transformative. It is a wonderful ensemble piece.

Carefully crafted, if a bit too long, the film makes you cringe and cry. You’ll be humming the songs, like “Hell NO!” on your way out of the theater. Look for multiple Academy Award nominations to go along with the excellent critical reviews and audience scores.

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