Queering Film

Fantasia Barrino, Halle Bailey, and Taraji P. Henson Shine in the Trailer for ‘The Color Purple’

Warner Bros. just dropped the emotional first trailer to The Color Purple. But how queer will it be?

On Monday, the first look at the upcoming Blitz Bazawule-directed film The Color Purple was released, revealing footage of the star-studded affair. The Color Purple tells the story of Celie (played by American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino), a Black woman living in the American South during the early 1900s whose life is marred by years of abuse and bigotry. After being married off to Mister (Colman Domingo) and enduring more abuse, she sets on an adventure that takes her through a journey of self-discovery. Ultimately, all Celie desires is to one day be reunited with her sister, Nettie (Halle Bailey), the only person who ever loved her. 

As the trailer shows, Celie’s journey leads her to meet several important figures in her life who teach her more about herself and support her evolution. These figures are played by some of Hollywood and the music industry’s brightest. Along with Barrino, Domingo, and Bailey, Taraji P. Henson (Abbott Elementary), Danielle Brooks (Peacemaker), Corey Hawkins (The Tragedy of Macbeth), H.E.R., Ciara, and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor (Lovecraft Country) join the cast.

The upcoming film is the latest adaptation of Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. In 1985, Walker’s novel was adapted into a screenplay by Menno Meyjes, directed by Steven Spielberg, and starred Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey produced a Broadway musical adaptation of the same name in 2005, in which Barrino portrayed Celie on Broadway from 2007 to 2008.  

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Walker’s novel told the story of Celie, while exploring various themes of Black girlhood, misogynoir, patriarchal violence, sexuality, Black women friendships, and sapphic love. During Celie’s journey of self-discovery, she meets Shug Avery, a vivacious jazz and blues singer who’s portrayed by Henson in the upcoming film. Within Walker’s book, Shug is a big part of Celie’s sexual awakening and their relationship is detailed heavily, but this reduced tremendously within the 1985 film adaptation.

“There were certain things in the [lesbian] relationship between Shug Avery and Celie that were very finely detailed in Alice’s book, that I didn’t feel could get a [PG-13] rating,” said Spielberg in an interview about the 1985 film. “In that sense, perhaps I was the wrong director to acquit some of the more sexually honest encounters between Shug and Celie because I did soften those. I basically took something that was extremely erotic and very intentional, and I reduced it to a simple kiss.”

Here’s to hoping the new film’s director keeps Walker’s queer elements within the musical film adaptation. The Color Purple premieres in theaters on December 25. 

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