All the ingredients of a sensational, highly acclaimed movie were in place for the new musical film version of The Color Purple. Steve Spielberg, Quincy Jones, and Oprah Winfrey were backing the Broadway musical come to life onscreen. Taraji P. Henson, Colman Domingo, Fantasia Barrino, Jon Baptiste, and H.E.R. were cast in major roles. Check. With these elements combined, it seemed as if this cinematic event that combined music and drama would culminate in a delightful experience worth every cent of the $18 million price tag it cost to make. But sadly, that’s not what happened.
The film could not decide if it wanted to be a musical that happened to be a drama or a drama trying to become a musical. The first 30 minutes had a slow-as-molasses pace setting up the sister relationship of Celie (Fantasia Barrino) and Nettie (Halle Bailey/Ciara). Nettie was pushed out of the house by Mister (Colman Domingo) because his romantic appeals were rejected, and Celie began her traumatic marriage with a man who never saw her as a human being. Barrino tried her best to meet the moments of hope in the midst of pain, but she could not quite overcome the confused script and forced directing she had to contend with. Director Blitz Bazawule also, curiously, did not display the talents of Oscar-winners Jon Baptiste (Grady) and H.E.R (Squeak).
However, Henson’s powerful performance as Mister’s girlfriend, Shug, brought some life into the script. And kudos to Danielle Brooks’ energetic portrayal of Sophia that gave different shades from Oprah’s role in the 1985 film.
In full disclosure, I did not see the Broadway musical, but I expected the film would have a strong point of view. It did not, and the film suffered. The highlights were the songs and singing by Henson and Brooks, and the low moments were actors trying too hard to make the script come to life. On the other hand, the themes of trauma, resilience, and faith elevated the film slightly, but not enough to pay for a full-priced theater ticket. Spielberg, Jones, and Winfrey should stick to what they do best. If The Color Purple is any indication, that is not musicals.
About the Author
Reginald Smith is the Director of Diversity for the Christian Reformed Church. He attends Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.