Purple is inspired by the beautiful story of The Color Purple and is in conversation with the age-old conversation of how significant womanist aspects of the novel were lost in its film adaptation.
The film Purple is a womanist (re)imagining of a scene from The Color Purple film and an imagining of a part of the novel that was not included in the original film. In the reimagined scene, both the premise and the dialogue are the same as in the original film, however it is shot differently. It is framed and angled in a way to force the viewer to identify with Celie and how she is feeling rather than identifying with Mister and how he feels about Celie. The next scene is the first time we see Celie living independent of male influence, not having to work for anyone, doing what she loves by making pants, and living in love with Shug. Perhaps the greatest disservice of The Color Purple film is not showing Celie during this time and instead showing Mister during his post-Celie journey. Women in a patriarchal society deciding who and how they want to love is an act of resistance and reclamation of their agency. The original film does not allow us to see Celie in this light.
Purple is inspired by the beautiful story of The Color Purple and is in conversation with the age-old conversation of how significant womanist aspects of the novel were lost in its film adaptation. In The Womanist Reader, Dr. Layli Phillips defines womanism as, “a social change perspective rooted in Black women’s and other women of color’s everyday experiences and everyday methods of problem solving in everyday spaces, extended to the problem of ending all forms of oppression for all people, restoring the balance between people and the environment/nature, and reconciling human life with the spiritual dimension,” (Phillips, xx).
Perhaps the greatest disservice of The Color Purple film is not showing Celie during this time and instead showing Mister during his post-Celie journey. Women in a patriarchal society deciding who and how they want to love is an act of resistance and reclamation of their agency.
Purple was originally in response to Dr. Christina Baker’s book, Contemporary Black Filmmakers and the Art of Resistance. She discusses how contemporary Black women filmmakers use film as a means of resistance and a reclamation of identity in ways that are reflective of Black women filmmakers before them. Yet, this resistance is often diminished when the work of Black women writers is reinterpreted and reimagined through the lens of a male film director.
Despite the backlash from the Black community, specifically the Black male community, The Color Purple is a story for and about Black women. It is a story about love, primarily the love and respect between Black women, and is portrayed through the relationship between sisters Celie and Nettie, to the respect and admiration between Celie and Sophia, to the romantic relationship between Celie and Shug Avery. Although the voices of women and the dynamics of their relationships with themselves and each other is seen in the film, much of it is lost. The film adaptation does an incredible job bringing Alice Walker’s story to life by sticking to the novel’s central themes about Black women finding their voice and reclaiming their power. However, the elements that were lost and unnecessarily included in the film decentralized women’s voices and inserted the stories and voices of men.
When an artist reimagines and adapts work from another source, their perspective influences how they interpret the story and in turn influences how they choose to re-present the story. It influences how they read the characters and therefore how they choose to portray them in an adaptation. It influences what aspects of the original story they choose to prioritize and include in their reimagining. During the process of making this film, I realized that art and stories are universal, but the stories that are told, who tells them, and how they’re told, is what makes them personal. Anytime someone’s art and story is re-interrupted through someone else’s lens, the original creator’s story, and therefore voice, is diminished, and sometimes changed or eliminated completely. This especially happens when the identity of the re-interpreter is not reflective of the identity of the original artist. Although this can happen to any artist, it is even more significant and perhaps, unfortunate, when it happens to Black women artists. Black women are already very much on the margins of society; our stories, experiences, and voices are minimally heard and appreciated. Often when we do see Black women on screen, it is not Black women who wrote the story that we’re watching or the dialogue that we’re hearing. Black women use art as a form of resistance; thus, when Black women create an opportunity and avenue to share their unique story and voice, it is imperative that their voice is honored, respected, protected, and present throughout the entire creative process.
During the process of making this film, I realized that art and stories are universal, but the stories that are told, who tells them, and how they’re told, is what makes them personal.
The Color Purple is a culturally significant and relevant story, both the novel and film are widely known within the Black community and beyond. It is a beautiful story about love and agency and Black women are at the center. It is truly a womanist manifesto, and the role of spirituality plays a huge part. However, the original film diminishes and in some ways, loses, these very important aspects.
I personally love both The Color Purple novel and the film; the film brings new aspects and perspectives that the novel does not. However, the film does not honor the womanist perspective, which is the very root and reason for The Color Purple story in the first place. My film Purple illustrates what the film could be like from a womanist perspective, maintaining the agency and voice of women, from their relationships and sexual experiences to their spiritual awareness and evolution. Purple seeks to maintain the visibility of Black women through their own voice and efforts.