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'The Color Purple' & The Timeless Impact Of Alice Walker's Masterpiece

As someone who was born in the late 80s, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982) has been a staple in my life for as long as I’ve been alive. I even named my first dog Shug Avery. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was the first of its kind, tackling the complex realities Black women in America face within their own homes and communities. The themes in the novel range from church hurt, sexuality, domestic violence, “Black codes,” and most importantly, it showed that Black women have the right to autonomy.


Since being published, Walker’s novel has been turned into a major motion film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985, a Broadway musical between 2005 to 2008, and has now been reimagined again with a film remake premiering on Christmas Day. The impact of this book has penetrated every aspect of Black culture, and Walker’s words from the pages of this novel are still being used in films, music, and academic articles today.

Fantasia Barrino as Celie in the 2023 adaptation of 'The Color Purple.'

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Through the character arcs of Celie, Shug Avery, and Sofia, we see how trauma, rejection, and abuse break these women’s spirits.

Yet, despite being dealt unbelievably difficult circumstances, they all find their way back to themselves and who they want to be. Whether it be through living with an abusive spouse like Celie, reconciling with a parent as Shug, or finding peace with who you are as Sofia, there are few Black women who couldn’t relate to at least one of these main characters or another woman in the novel.

Though this was a fiction novel, the stories shared within it are experiences many Black women faced in their communities during the early Jim Crow era in America. Many of the stories told about harm done to Black people during this time period center on white supremacists harming Black people.

However, Walker shed light on the abuse and mistreatment Black women not only received from white people but from Black men as well.

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Oprah Winfrey as Sofia in the 1982 adaptation of 'The Color Purple.'

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The moment Sofia’s character confronts Celie about encouraging Harpo to beat her, the words Walker wrote resonated with many Black women then and now. “All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain't safe in a family of men. But I never thought I'd have to fight in my own house.”

Though Black women and girls are taught to take ownership of how our actions impact the Black men in our lives that same accountability isn’t always expected in reverse.

This reality was put on full display when the original film premiered in 1985. Despite the vast success the original film received, grossing more than $142 million worldwide and earning 11 Academy Award nominations, many filmmakers, writers, journalists, and academics felt the film was anti-black and racist in its depiction of Black men. The Los Angeles premiere was even protested by The Coalition Against Black Exploitation because of the abusive nature of the men in the film.

Though Walker had mixed reviews on the film herself, the overall backlash of the film is a tangible example of misogynoir and how the erasure of Black women’s lived experiences and contributions to the Black community were and are prevalent in the Black community.

Margaret Avery as Shug Avery in 'The Color Purple (1982).'

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We see this in the way Black women are questioned when they bring up partner abuse, we see this when Black women bring up accusations of sexual misconduct against Black men they work with or for, and we even see this when Black women’s cases are mishandled by police and demand for justice isn’t as loudly heard. Black women have been expected to remain silent about the harm being inflicted on them within their own communities for decades.

Walker’s The Color Purple and the corresponding film gave a brief glimpse into the reality many of our ancestors faced in the early 1900s.

Phylicia Pearl Mpasi and Halle Bailey as young Celie and young Nellie in 'The Color Purple (2023).'

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The truths shared in this novel are why the story has lasted the test of time and has been re-envisioned in so many ways. Black women want to feel seen and heard but don’t often find they have a space where they’re allowed to do so safely. They also want their stories of heartache and overall triumph to be shared and celebrated with the world.

The excitement of the remake starring; Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson, and Halle Bailey just to name a few; is proof that Walker’s story still resonates with the Black women and community and will forever be a part of the cultural fabric of who we are in this country.

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Featured image by Tenor

 

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