The Color Purple star calls out film for queer erasure: ‘It’s a story about Black lesbians. Period’

The Color Purple releases full length trailer.

The Color Purple star Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor has criticised film adaptations of the famous literary work for erasing the queer relationship at the heart of the story.

Based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple was adapted into an award-winning movie by Steven Spielberg in 1985. A Broadway musical followed in 2005 (and revival 10 years later) and a radio play for the BBC in 2008.

Last year, another film, this time a musical, was released, starring The Little Mermaid‘s Halle Bailey, with American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino as Celie, Orange is the New Black‘s Danielle Brooks as Sofia and Hidden Figures‘ Taraji P. Henson as Shug.

One of the pivotal plots of the story is Shug and Celie’s attraction to, and relationship with, each other, which was specifically confirmed by Walker as queer in her 1996 book The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult.

“I wanted to give my family and friends an opportunity to see women-loving women: lesbian, heterosexual, bi-sexual, ‘two-spirited’ womanist women in a recognisable context. I wanted them, I suppose, to see me,” she explained.

But Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, who plays Mama in the 2023 adaptation, doesn’t believe the latest film does the novel’s queer story justice.

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She told Buzzfeed: The book is about Black lesbians. Whether the choice was made to focus on that or not in the cinematic iterations of The Color Purple, it’s still a movie about Black lesbians.

“People can try to say the story is about sisterhood, but it’s a story about Black lesbians. Period.

“What is hard for me is that when we have those spaces where we can honour the truth of that, we walk away from it. We suppress it. We hide it. We sanitise it.

“Someone like me, knowing that the book is about Black lesbians, looks at that and thinks: ‘You’re sanitising me and my friends, and other people who I love and adore’.”

Ellis-Taylor went to say the 2023 version failed audiences in some aspects of its queer representation.

“Alice Walker wrote The Color Purple with intention because she was writing about herself. I just want that part of the book to be portrayed in the films with intention, instead of it being incidental.

“I want people to walk away from The Color Purple thinking: ‘I just saw a movie about Black lesbians’. I don’t think that has happened.”

The Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel has longevity for a reason, she added.

“Somebody has to be brave. Alice Walker wrote a book about Black lesbians, and we’re still telling that story today. The Color Purple is one of the most important books in the canon of world literature.

“Also, you have to have Black women and Black queer women in the making of it… the first one was directed by a white man. The remake was directed by a Black man.”

The Color Purple is available to stream on Max in the US.

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