The Color Purple was actually real.
The Color Purple is a story that must continue to be told in the spite of controversy. Warner Bros. has recently announced the upcoming release of a musical film adaptation of The Color Purple in winter 2023. While limited information is available to the public, a brief two minute trailer has already sparked controversy.
Similar to the original 1985 film produced by Stephen Spielberg, the primary criticisms of the upcoming adaptation have come from within the Black community. Prominent figures like Spike Lee have voiced concerns that the film portrays an unfair representation of Black men and perpetuates a conspiracy to tarnish their reputation. To that I digress—intercommunal violence gender-based violence is regrettably common among marginalized communities. The controversy is also ridicolous considering that the story of The Color Purple is absolutely a real segment of recent American history.
Both the Broadway musical, which served as inspiration for the 2023 film, and Spielberg's earlier production are based on Alice Walker's award-winning novel of the same name, published in 1982. For those unfamiliar with the story or who haven't had the opportunity to experience it with a Black Mom, here is a brief synopsis:
Set in the post-reconstruction American South, the narrative revolves around two sisters. Nettie, the youngest sister, has a limited yet important presence in the story. Our protagonist is the eldest, Celie, portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg in her breakthrough role in 1985. Celie endures abuse from everyone around her, constantly reminded by society of her unworthiness due to her impoverished background, being a woman, and considered unattractive.
The film, and the novel to a greater extent, depicts Celie's journey of self-discovery through a lesbian relationship with her husband's mistress. This narrative element is symbolized by the color "purple," which has long been associated with sapphic romance. Be warned: it is filled with heart-wrenching elements, including depictions of incest, domestic violence, child brides, and poverty. Yet it sheds light on the brutal gender-based violence that Black women faced during the post-reconstruction era. However, it ultimately carries a message of triumph, highlighting that everything depicted in The Color Purple is rooted in real-life experiences.
I, personally, am four generations removed from sharecropping in the deep South. During my childhood in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I often accompanied my aunts and great-grandmother to domestic help jobs. Even in her sixties, my great-grandmother had to work as a domestic servant for upper-middle-class families in suburban Michigan. As a young girl, she had aspirations of becoming a doctor, and those who knew her during her youth recognized her potential. However, at the age of fourteen, she became pregnant and was compelled to marry, as was customary at the time.
Consequently, she spent her entire life cleaning houses in the North, never becoming a doctor. In her later years, she shared stories with me about the levels of abuse she endured from farm workers, family members, and members of the community. Even in old age, the abuse she suffered merely for being Black and a woman remained a haunting memory. I’ve heard from countless of elder Black women and those who lived in this era, stories like Celie’s were the rule rather than the exception.
So this story must be told because the truth is: violence is often intracommunal. It’s also important to recognize these tragedies because they can serve as hope. Black American women make up one of the fastest growing groups of woman entrepreneurs. In only a few generations we have seen great strides in class mobility and education levels. As each generation of Black women thrive in the face of intracommunal violence, it serves as a testament to our determination.