Critically-acclaimed film The Color Purple premiered on Dec. 16, 1985. The notable film turns 36 years old today, and many fans don’t know these 10 interesting facts about the Steven Spielberg landmark drama starring Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.
The Color Purple is an epic tale spanning forty years in the life of Celie, portrayed by Goldberg, an African American woman living in the South who survives longstanding abuse and bigotry. After Celie’s abusive father marries her off to the equally debasing “Mister” Albert Johnson, played by Glover, things go from bad to worse, leaving Celie to find companionship anywhere she can. She perseveres, holding on to her dream of one day being reunited with her sister in Africa. The film is based upon Alice Walker’s novel of the same name.
To celebrate the film’s premiere, here are 10 things you might not know about The Color Purple.
1. Alice Walker Didn’t Want Steven Spielberg To DirectSource:Getty
Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel is what inspired the critically-acclaimed film. Though the movie went on to become quite successful, Walker wasn’t convinced Steven Spielberg could handle the dramatic material being a White male. Walker told producer Quincy Jones the movie should be directed by someone who had experience with being Black in America and even Spielberg agreed. The director reportedly told Jones he wasn’t the right person for the job, to which Jones replied: “I want you to do it, and besides, did you have to be an alien to direct ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’?”
2. Shug Avery Could’ve Starred A Music LegendSource:Getty
Chaka Khan and Tina Turner both turned down the role of Shug Avery which eventually went to Margaret Avery.
3. How Whoopi Goldberg Landed Her AuditionSource:Getty
At the time, Whoopi Goldberg was known most for her work as a stand-up comedian when she heard about auditions for The Color Purple. She believed she would be the perfect fit to play Sofia, so she invited Walker to come see her perform stand-up. The invite led to her invitation to audition.
Goldberg staged an unconventional audition, delivering a comedy set about E.T. getting arrested for drug possession.
She recalled the moment to Howard Stern in 2020: “I went to Steven’s studio, and then I peeked out, you know, from behind the curtain, and there are all kinds of people — Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson and just all these people who were watching me perform, and I just felt like, ‘I hope I’m good.’ Because all those people that were there, including Steven, were people who I had always dreamed about.”
4. Award-Winning DebutsSource:Getty
The film became both Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey’s debut acting performances. Both women earned Academy Award nominations for their performances, as did co-star Margaret Avery. The Color Purple is the first film to have three Black actors of any gender nominated for an Academy Award.
5. Oprah Didn’t Think She Got The PartSource:Getty
Oprah Winfrey hadn’t heard back from producers for some time and figured she didn’t get casted for the part. She decided to enroll in a weight loss camp in Wisconsin, only to get the call that she had been cast and if she wanted to keep the part, she was instructed not to lose any weight.
6. Oprah Had To Unlearn Her TV WaysSource:Getty
The film was a bit of a learning curve for Oprah Winfrey. It took Winfrey some time to adapt to a film set. She had experience as a daytime TV host on A.M. Chicago, where she created a habit of looking directly into the camera when delivering dialogue.
When prompted by Spielberg, Winfrey ad-libbed her lines around the dinner table scene with Whoopi Goldberg. It is said that when the scene ended, Goldberg walked over to Winfrey, gave her a hug, and reportedly told her she was now officially an actress.
7. Transformed Steven Spielberg’s CareerSource:Getty
Spielberg cites The Color Purple as the turning point in his career, as his first “serious drama.” It paved the way for his later films Empire Of The Sun and Schindler’s List.
8. So Many AwardsSource:Getty
The film made an Oscar record, receiving a total of 11 Academy Award nominations. The dram was the first PG-13 rated movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar award.
Ultimately, the film went home empty-handed with Sydney Pollack’s Out Of Africa claiming the Best Picture prize. The film remains tied with 1977’s The Turning Point for the film, with the most Oscar nominations without winning a single award.
9. The ControversySource:Getty
Of course with any great film comes controversy.
The film faced criticism, especially for its harsh portrayal of Black men. Spielberg also caved into the pressures from adapting an explicit lesbian relationship between Shug and Celie found in the original Walker book, reducing the scene to a kiss between the two women.
On the film’s 25th anniversary, Spielberg admitted that while he wouldn’t have changed the kiss in the film, he was definitely “shy” about the sexual encounters in the book. He eventually decided that the kiss was appropriate for his adaptation and the movie’s PG-13 rating.
10. One More TimeSource:Getty
Alice Walker wasn’t impressed with the final cut of the film initially, and she was particularly displeased with the opening sequence. However, after watching the film again at the premiere, Walker changed her mind.
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