Thursday, February 29, 2024
CultureFIlm

“The Color Purple: A Remake, a Musical, a Vibrant Celebration of Black Culture”

Phylicia Pearl Mpasi as young Celie and Halle Bailey as young Nettie (Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Directed by: Blitz Bazawule

Starring:  Fantasia Barrino, Colman Domingo, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Corey Hawkins, H.E.R., Halle Bailey, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Ciara, and Jon Batiste. 

Music by: Kris Bowers

The Color Purple is a beautiful celebration of Blackness. I initially harbored uncertainty about the musical adaptation, given the weighty task of translating Alice Walker’s celebrated novel into an award-winning musical play and remaking one of the most important films in cinema history. However, the film succeeds admirably in this endeavor. From the beginning, the meticulous costume and set design transport the audience to a bygone era, establishing a strong foundation for the film. Supported by stellar editing and sound design, The Color Purple emerges as a formidable contender across multiple award categories.

Fantasia Barrino as Celie (Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

In the opening moments of the film, I was immediately struck by the exceptional craftsmanship evident in the costume and set design, expertly transporting the audience to another era. The seamless collaboration of these elements, combined with precise editing and sound design, solidly positions The Color Purple as a strong contender across various award categories. The portrayal of the setting in Africa is particularly noteworthy, as vibrant colors, dynamic choreography, striking costumes, and the actors’ performances collectively convey an immersive experience that captures the essence of celebrating Black culture through the eyes of Nettie.

The Performances

I commend all the actors for their exceptional portrayals of the beloved and iconic characters. Phylicia Pearl Mpasi delivered an outstanding performance as young Celie, leaving me yearning for more of her on-screen presence. Her ability to bring gravitas to the role and immerse the audience in Celie’s journey set a strong foundation for Fantasia to take the reins and finish with conviction. Mpasi’s appearance, smile, and mannerisms authentically embodied the Celie I fondly remembered. Her on-screen chemistry with Hailey Bailey as Nettie was beautiful, conveying a believable bond that withstood the pain and struggles life threw at them.

Fantasia’s rendition of the shy and consistently abused Celie was commendable; she embodied the character with a soft, quiet, and vulnerable demeanor. Her singing added a layer of power and meaning to her performance, truly making her character shine.

Louis Gossett Jr. (portraying Mister Johnson) exuded coldness, cruelty, and demand, showcasing that even after all these years, he could still command a scene with remarkable intensity. His portrayal of Mister was so convincing that it elicited a visceral reaction; I found myself wanting to retaliate, a testament to Gossett’s skill of executing memorable roles.

Deon Cole’s portrayal of Alfonso (Celie and Nettie’s father) was both pure evil and hateful, almost rivaling the malevolence of Mister. Cole’s ability to tap into such darkness and hatred adds an intriguing layer to his performances. The depth he brings to his roles suggests a willingness to venture into deep, dark places to embody the characters he portrays authentically.

I found Taraji P. Henson’s performance (as Shug Avery) powerful, sexy, and full of charisma. She was perfect for this role, as I believe that Henson possesses the same allure as the character. It was interesting seeing this character as someone who is over 30 versus a younger actress because I understand the relationship between Shug and Celie was something that superceded what I previously categorized as a romantic relationship. I’ve come to realize it’s moreso a genuine desire to be loved and wanted; something no one could give Shug or Celie until they met each other.

Fantasia Barrino as Celie and Taraji P. Henson as Shug (Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Two performances that left a lasting impression on me were those of Colman Domingo and Danielle Brooks. Domingo, portraying the manipulative and abusive Mister, proved to be just as menacing as Danny Glover, who originally portrayed the character. While Domingo offered a slightly more charming version of the character, less brutal than Glover’s, both actors contributed to making Mister a memorable and multi-dimensional character. This nuanced portrayal allowed for more redeeming stories for the male figures in the film, challenging the audience to not simply loathe Mister as they might have in the past but rather to understand that his actions are due to childhood trauma and misguided male influences.

Danielle Brooks as Sofia and Corey Hawkins as Harpo (Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Danielle Brooks has garnered significant Oscar buzz for her outstanding portrayal of the infamous Sofia, a recognition she undoubtedly deserves. Personally, I found her performance even more captivating than Oprah’s in the original rendition. Brooks brought both charm and fierceness to her role, delivering a powerful scene that resonated with me emotionally. My admiration for Brooks dates back to her role in the series Peacemaker, and this film has deepened my appreciation for her talent. The chemistry between Brooks and Hawkins was palpable, and their on-screen dynamic, whether in love or engaging in a passionate debate, worked seamlessly and left a lasting impact.

The Music

The musical numbers in The Color Purple stand out as some of my favorites this year. Kudos to Kris Bowers for expertly orchestrating this musical score. Let’s begin with the exceptional song performance by Tamala Man (with additional vocals by David Alan Grier), setting the film’s tone with her captivating vocals that draw the audience into the film’s appeal. Three more favorites include Corey Hawkins’ impressive rendition of “Workin” as Harpo (his singing and dancing skills are noteworthy, as showcased in In the Heights), the lively and enduring track “Keep it Movin” by Bailey and Mpasi, and finally, Danielle Brooks’ powerful delivery of “Hell No!”—an empowering anthem likely to resonate with many, especially those frustrated with their partners.

Colman Domingo as Mister (Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Conclusion

The Color Purple proves to be an entertaining musical that taps into the energy of the original film. The musical numbers and score are worth listening to repeatedly and even though I may be a bit biased towards the original which holds sentimental value for me, I still enjoyed this rendition. Teachers used to play the original film on movie day when they wanted a break from work.

I recommend watching the film during the holiday season with family and friends to relive the iconic lines and performances we all know and love. Some negative reviews or critiques seem to stem from comparing this film to the original, forgetting that it is a musical based on musical and other intellectual properties.

The only drawback I found was that the film may have been about 15 minutes longer than necessary, and I wish it had dedicated a bit more time to young Celie’s life. Despite this, I give The Color Purple an 8/10.

Dapper Dr Feel

Felipe Patterson aka Dapper Dr. Feel, #BlackLoveConvo & Entertainment | @fdapperdr Dapper Dr. Feel is a Entertainment journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association and African American Film Association.

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