Why The Color Purple has been remade: ‘Celie is a queer icon’

With The Color Purple due to hit cinema screens in the next few weeks, the film’s crew has said that the retelling of Alice Walker’s iconic novel will bring its lesbian plot to the forefront.

Producers Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg’s latest musical adaptation of the ground-breaking Black lesbian novel has been described as “unlike any other version that’s ever been done before” and will reportedly focus on protagonist Celie’s feelings for singer Shug Avery.

“Celie is an icon, a queer icon,” Blitz Bazawule, the film’s director, said, adding that the film will explore her feelings, while being aware of the period and time.

“Because we were in Celie’s headspace, we could actually show how her feelings are evolving,” Bazawule added.

“The way her attraction starts to build for Shug Avery and how that eventually culminates, were all things that we could actually see – her choosing who to love and how to love.”

Scott Sanders, the stage musical’s producer, added that “the talent that’s come together is so remarkable”.

Since winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, Walker’s novel has been reimagined several times. Spielberg’s 1985 film, starring Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg, was nominated for 11 Oscars, while the 2005 Broadway musical landed a Tony award.

The story was revived on Broadway in 2015, starring Wicked‘s Cynthia Erivo, winning two more Tony awards.

In the latest adaptation, 2004 American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino, who played Celie in the original Broadway musical, and Orange is the New Black‘s Danielle Brooks, who played Sofia in the 2015 revival, reprise their roles, while Hidden Figures star Taraji P. Henson plays Shug.

The Little Mermaid‘s Halle Bailey also features.

Bazawule’s comments on the story’s queer roots may come as a comfort to LGBTQ+ fans, who have criticised the 1985 film for erasing the queer storyline between Celie and Shug – the romantic relationship was almost entirely cut.

Spielberg said in an interview in 2011 that he now regrets “softening” the romance.

“I was shy about it,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “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. I got a lot of criticism for that.”

The Color Purple is due to open in the US on 25 December and in UK cinemas on 26 January.

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