After moving and getting sick and maybe a bit of procrastination, I’m back with another MISS review. Since this is the only one I’ll be doing for black history month, I figured I’d choose a movie with lots of black actors. Well, technically the Primer review came out on the first, but that movie had no black people in it. Huh. Anyway, I chose a movie that barely has any non-black characters to compensate. Let’s watch The Color Purple.
Stuff I know about this movie beforehand:
-This is Whoopi Goldberg’s first movie
That’s basically it. The credits have a few more familiar names like Danny Glover (should I put Lethal Weapon on my MISS list?), Quincy Jones, Oprah and- oh hey, Steven Spielberg? He’s on this list a few times. Alright, see y’all under the cut.
The movie opens with a young girl who looks enough like Whoopi Goldberg that I had to briefly stop and look up when it was filmed to see if she was really that young. Nope, just a lookalike actress. Good job, casting department. Anyway, the opening narration is gold. A lot of the individual lines in this movie are very well-crafted, which makes me want to read the book this is based on. That list of books to read is enormous, though, so let’s keep going with the movie.
Celie Johnson is only fourteen years old but she already has had two children, both by her father. Screaming childbirth and a dramatic rape backstory, in the first five minutes of the film? Move over, Up, this movie has you beat for depressing openings. The way Celie narrates, everything seems so matter-of-fact. In her mind, this kind of awful stuff is just the way of life and I want to pluck her out of this horrible life and put her in a safe place. The worst thing in Celie’s eyes are that both of her kids have been given away, to the point where whenever she sees a baby in town she wonders if it might actually be her own.
Celie has a younger sister named Nettie who is apparently super hot to the ephebophilic creeps in town. One of them, the constantly staring Danny Glover character who is simply named Mister, goes to Celie and Nettie’s father to ask for Nettie’s hand in marriage. Celie is given away instead because she’s older, even if “she’s ugly and she ain’t fresh. She’s spoiled, twice.” Damn, abusive dad, why do you have to be such a jerk? I mean, it’s not her fault that you’ve been raping her Lord knows how long.
So marriage to Mister is pretty awful. Celie is taking care of kids barely any younger than she is and Mister is always slapping and raping and yelling and generally being unpleasant. Danny Glover plays a good foreboding villain. Nettie comes to stay because their dad is still a creepy daughter-rapist and the sisters get some great bonding in. This is some Fox and the Hound business because they carve their friendship into trees and I just know they will be brutally torn apart. They know it too, apparently, because they have a neat sequence of learning to read and write so they can always communicate.
My favorite exchange in the film is here, as well. Nettie thinks Celie is being too passive with all the awful stuff happening to her. “You gotta fight,” she says, to which Celie replies “I don’t know how to fight. All I know’s how to stay alive.” That right there is Celie’s character in a nutshell. Unfortunately, when she does give Mister a bit of a fight, he tears the sisters apart and makes Nettie leave. From then on, Mister is always friendly with the mailman and intercepting letters so that the sisters can’t communicate.
Time skip! The kid who looked like Whoopi is now Whoopi and Mister’s oldest son is now hot. His name is Harpo and he gets married to Oprah. Nice bit of sdrawkcabing, casting department. You guys are on point for this movie. There’s some weird family drama where Mister tells Harpo to beat his wife but since this is “fat Oprah” era she beats his ass instead. Oprah, who we should call by her character name Sophia, keeps having kids and fighting with her husband until they end up splitting up.
Enter Shug Avery, a jazz singer who used to date Mister and apparently still intimidates him. She’s sick and ornery and Mister almost burns down the house trying to cook her food so Celie tries instead. The two women bond and Mister’s dad, some light-skinned Cab Calloway-looking dude, is trying to tell Mister that Shug is trouble. It seems like Mister has as much trouble standing up to Shug or his dad as Celie does standing up to him, which gives Mister some much needed character depth. It doesn’t excuse his douchiness, but now we kind of see why Mister likes to take what control he can.
Meanwhile, Harpo has been building this speakeasy-type place where Shug can sing all sexy-like. All the dudes in the place go Tex Avery over this sexy lady but she seems to only have eyes for Celie. Is this gonna be a lesbians movie? Unfortunately, no, but it’s really straddling the line and I have the feeling that Celie and Shug would’ve become romantically entwined had this movie not been made thirty years ago. Or maybe in the book, which is one more reason to add it to my list. Celie and Shug have this beautiful conversation about how Mister is a big jerk and Celie deserves love because she’s beautiful and I can’t handle how cute it all is. After that, Shug is like honey and Celie’s like a bee.
Also Sophia smacks Harpo’s squeaky new girlfriend into a wall and it’s like a cartoon. I guess Spielberg can’t stand to make a movie that’s all drama. It’s not a bad scene and it’s pretty funny but the flow of the movie kind of gets disrupted.
Shug has to leave for some reason and that means things are sad again. Sophia is out and about with her kids when some annoying white lady basically demands that she become her maid. This escalates when the lady’s husband slaps Sophia for her refusal and she lays him out in one punch. Sophia must have forgotten that she’s black and this movie takes place back in the day to boot, so they throw her in jail for eight whole years until the white lady pays bail or something. So now Sophia is the lady’s maid anyway and she hasn’t seen her kids in eight years. Christ, this movie is depressing.
Sophia has to teach the white lady to drive, but she’s a woman in back in the day times so of course she’s awful at it. After promising that Sophia can spend Christmas seeing her kids for the first time ever, the white lady freaks out when she can’t get out of the driveway and some black “thugs” try to help her and at the end of the day Sophia has to leave her kids. Oy vei.
Shug comes back to visit but much to Mister and Celie’s disappointment Shug went and got herself a husband! The important thing, though, is that Shug and Celie find Mister’s stash where he keeps nudie pics and money and the letters from Nettie.
Celie has some fantasy sequences while she reads about how Nettie ran away to Africa to become a missionary? And she found and adopted all of Celie’s kids, despite only knowing their first names and having no resources and being a poor black teenager to boot? The movie stops explaining deus ex machinas as it cuts Celie a break. I love seeing her happy after all this time, but I can’t help feeling I’m missing something.
So Celie steels her courage with this newfound information and tells Mister she’s going to be leaving with Shug and her husband. She tells Mister off so thoroughly that Sophia, who has been a depressed wreck since the whole maid-prison plot, starts laughing and joking again. As Celie rides away, he tells her she can’t live without him because she’s ugly, black and poor but her response is basically “fuck you I’m Whoopi Goldberg”.
We get some short sequences after yet another flash forward. Mister is drunk and his house is decrepit because he doesn’t have anybody in his life anymore. His Cab Calloway dad tells him to just get a new wife, but Mister at least has the dignity to say he doesn’t have to do what his dad says anymore. Celie and Nettie’s creepy rapist dad died on top of his creepily younger wife. He’s actually their stepdad, though, and through some quirk of inheritance Celie now owns all his land and his store and everything. She and Shug go walking through their new property and there are pretty purple flowers. Shug says the color purple (hey, that’s the name of the show) represents beauty in nature that simply cannot be ignored. So I guess Celie is this beauty? However you interpret it, it’s a pretty romantic line.
There is a baffling sequence where Shug leads a bunch of folks from Harpo’s place to the church, all while singing the same song as the church choir. She bursts in and hugs the preacher who for the first time ever is revealed to be her dad? I guess they had a falling out and just resolved it, but this was never mentioned before in the movie and won’t be again, so I’m not a big fan of the scene. It feels like the writers forgot to write in Shug’s character arc and then crammed in the resolution with all the other happy scenes.
Mister gets a letter from immigration and gathers up his old stash of money. Come to think of it, where did he get these funds? From what I can tell he’s a sharecropper and that was one of the least profitable lines of work a person could find back then. Regardless, he does a nice thing for once and pays for Nettie to come back to the country. She and Celie and Celie’s children all reunite and everybody is happy.
Whoopi Goldberg does a great job in this movie and I see now how she became a household name. For a woman who is primarily a comedian, she does a hell of a job as a dramatic actress. I wish she had taken more of those types of roles instead of just playing center square for the entirety of the nineties. Whoopi twitches and fidgets and slouches throughout every scene with Mister, really conveying this poor abused woman who’s barely ever been loved and doesn’t know how to react to positive attention. My main takeaway is definitely a newfound respect for this actress.
My second reaction is that I want to read the book. Some of this is a positive note as the movie felt very literary and had tons of great lines, but some of it is because of the confusing ending sequences. Shug and Nettie’s life stories are thrown at us last minute and I can’t figure out all of it. This along with some of the more sudden tone shifts irked me something fierce, but I still love the dramatic story and excellent acting.