What really happened behind the scenes on The Color Purple remake?

Taraji P. Henson (L) and Oprah Winfrey (R) are involved in the debate around on set conditions.

The stars behind The Color Purple movie musical have been sharing their negative experiences on set, following the film’s US release.

The Color Purple remake, based on the Tony-winning Broadway musical and Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, follows African-American woman Celie (Fantasia Barrino) over the decades as she discovers the power of sisterhood and female love.

The revival cast also stars Taraji P. Henson, Halle Bailey, Colman Domingo and Danielle Brooks. The remake follows Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed 1985 version, which featured Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. Both Spielberg and Oprah act as executive producers for the new movie musical.

The Color Purple – which released in the US in December – has made headlines over recent weeks for several reasons. From its depiction of the explicit sapphic romance between Celie and Shug Avery to Henson’s emotional discussion around poor pay for Black creatives to the almost-casting of Beyoncé and Rihanna.

Now cast members are coming out with allegations against the production team about poor conditions on set. But what exactly have they said, and how has Winfrey responded?

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What have The Color Purple cast members said?

During an interview with The New York Times on 5 January, Henson shared that the cast were asked to drive themselves to set with rental cars – despite lengthy and exhausting working days.

“They gave us rental cars, and I was like, ‘I can’t drive myself to set in Atlanta,” she told the publication.

“This is insurance liability, it’s dangerous. Now they robbing people. What do I look like, taking myself to work by myself in a rental car?

“So I was like, ‘Can I get a driver or security to take me?’ I’m not asking for the moon. They’re [the production team] like, ‘Well, if we do it for you, we got to do it for everybody.’

“Well, do it for everybody! It’s stuff like that, stuff I shouldn’t have to fight for.”

It’s not the only issue cast members faced. During a live Q&A, co-star Brooks admitted that originally the cast had to go without their own food, dressing rooms and basic amenities.

“I remember when we first came in and were doing rehearsals and they put us all in the same space,” she said. “We didn’t have our own dressing rooms at the time and they did not give us no food.”

Both Henson and Brooks confirmed that Oprah had no idea about the conditions but was quick to correct the oversights after hearing about it from Henson.

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Is there tension between Oprah Winfrey and Taraji P. Henson?

In late December – following Henson’s Hollywood pay disparity criticism – fans speculated there could be tension between her and Oprah after they appeared cold towards one another during a press shoot at the Empire State Building.

But Henson quickly shot this notion down through a heartfelt Instagram post of the powerhouse duo. “It is so important for black women and ALL women of color to support each other,” Henson wrote in the caption.

“Ms. OPRAH has been nothing less than a steady and solid beacon of light to ALL OF THE CAST of The Color Purple!!!” she continued. “She told me personally to reach out to her for ANYTHING I needed, and I did!”.

Although Oprah did not address the concerns at the time but, following discussion around the onset conditions, she has been spurred into action.

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How has Oprah Winfrey responded to what happened?

While speaking with Entertainment Tonight, Oprah put the feud rumours to rest.

“Taraji will tell you herself that I’ve been the greatest champion of this film,” she began. “Championing not only the behind the scenes projection but also everything that everybody needed.

“So whenever I heard that there was something that someone needed, I’m not in charge of the budget because that’s Warner Brothers you know that’s the way the studio system works.”

She also explained that during the Empire State Building photo shoot she was “so cold” she doesn’t remember the body language.

“I was literally just trying to stay warm and that was the fourth thing we had done,” she said.

As for the lack of food and rental car situation, Oprah continued: “Whenever I heard there was an issue or there was a problem, there was a problem with a cars or the problem with their food, I would step in and do whatever I could to make it right.

“And I believe that she would even vouch for that and say that is true.”

The Color Purple arrives in UK cinemas on 26 January.

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