AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Color Purple
Director: Steven Spielberg (Dir)
Release Date:   18 Dec 1985
Duration (in mins):  152
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Cast: Danny Glover  (Albert [Johnson])
  Adolph Caesar  (Old Mr.)
  Margaret Avery  (Shug Avery)

Summary: In the winter of 1909 Georgia, a fourteen-year-old African American girl named Celie gives birth to a daughter, Olivia, as her younger sister, Nettie, acts as midwife. Since the baby was conceived through incest, Celie’s father, Pa, seizes the infant and warns his daughter to keep the pregnancy a secret. Celie had previously conceived another child through incest, a son named Adam, but he was also removed from her care. Sometime later, a prominent local farmer named Albert Johnson asks Pa’s permission to marry young Nettie. Refusing, the old man offers Celie instead, and Albert takes the girl to his plantation. There, she calls him “Mister,” acts as a domestic servant, and endures his abuse. In the spring, Celie believes she recognizes her seven-month-old daughter, Olivia, in town. She follows Corrine, the baby’s supposed mother, to learn the child was adopted by Reverend Samuel. However, Celie remains uncertain whether the child is her own. Back at the farm, Celie is visited by Nettie, who escaped Pa. Celie warns Nettie to leave the farm before Albert has his way with her, but the sisters are inseparable, and Nettie teaches Celie to read. One day, Albert attempts to rape Nettie on her route to school. When she retaliates, Albert violently forces her to leave, and she and Celie are separated yet again. Nettie promises to write to her sister. Sometime later, Albert receives a letter announcing the imminent arrival of his former lover, a diva named Shug Avery. Although Celie hopes for mail from Nettie, Albert declares she will never see letters from her sister. Years pass, and Celie improves her reading to escape Albert’s brutality. In summer 1916, Albert meets his son Harpo’s pregnant fiancée, Sofia. Although he forbids the marriage, the two wed after the birth of their first child. When the couple moves to the Johnson farm, both Albert and Celie advise young Harpo to beat the brazen girl into submission. Instead, Sofia punches Harpo in the eye and vows to fight for her dignity. Although Harpo and Sofia have more children, their brawls continue and Sofia leaves with their offspring. One day, during a rainstorm, Albert returns home with an ailing Shug Avery and Celie is smitten by the sickly, yet unabashed, starlet. Later, Celie bathes Shug and the woman cries about the loss of her pastor father’s affection. Meanwhile, Albert’s father, Old Mr., arrives unexpectedly and renounces his son’s romance with the free-spirited, promiscuous Shug, but Celie secretly spits in his water. In summer 1922, Albert, Harpo, and their musician friend, Swain, build a makeshift, lakeside saloon called “Harpo’s” for Shug to reestablish her singing career. There, crowds defy Prohibition to indulge in alcohol and Shug’s seductive spectacles. Celie is mesmerized one night by a suggestive song called “Miss Celie’s Blues.” Just then, Harpo’s estranged wife, Sofia, arrives with a gentleman friend, and Harpo coaxes her onto the dance floor. However, Harpo’s latest lover, Squeak, is displeased by the reunion and slaps Sofia. After returning home from the ensuing brawl, Celie dresses in Shug’s cocktail dress and smiles for the first time. However, her joy dissipates when Shug announces her intention to leave the Johnson farm. As Shug inquires about Celie’s relationship with Albert, the girl reveals he has never cared about her happiness, and he beats her when Shug is not around. Declaring her love for the girl, Shug says Celie is still a virgin and kisses her. In the coming days, Shug visits her preacher father and he ignores her. When Shug leaves for Memphis, Tennessee, Celie plans to escape, but Albert interferes. Sometime later, in town, Sofia refuses to be a servant for Miss Millie, the mayor’s wife, then punches the mayor in retaliation for his verbal abuse. Eight years later, in spring 1930, a gray-haired and defeated Sofia is released from prison, only to become Miss Millie’s maid. On Christmas day, Miss Millie drives Sofia to reunite for the day with her three estranged children and extended family, including Harpo. However, Miss Millie fears the black men are attacking her when they help maneuver her car and she orders Sofia to leave. During Easter 1935, Shug returns to the Johnson farm with her new, wealthy husband, Grady. As Albert and Grady drunkenly discuss their romantic rivalry, Shug checks the mail and finds a letter from Celie’s sister, Nettie, who is now living in Africa. The letter confirms that Celie’s two children, Olivia and Adam, were adopted by Corrine, the lady Celie saw in town, and her husband, Reverend Samuel. Nettie joined the missionaries on their journey to Africa as the children’s nanny. Shug and Celie search the house and find Nettie’s previous letters hidden under the floorboards. Reading Nettie’s old letters, Celie learns about her sister’s life in Africa, and the violence of white colonists. However, Nettie promises to return with the children as soon as they meet the approval of U.S. immigration. Sometime later, Albert beats Celie, demanding she shave his face, and she prepares to murder him, but Shug comes to the rescue. Meanwhile, in Africa, Olivia and Adam are initiated into a native tribe as knives slice through their cheeks. In Georgia, at Easter dinner, Shug announces she is bringing Celie to Memphis. When Albert objects, Celie defies her husband, and Sofia, who has returned home from her servitude to Miss Millie, regains her impetuous nature. After holding a knife to Albert’s throat, Celie leaves the farm, vowing that her husband will suffer for his offenses. By fall 1937, Albert’s farm is decrepit and his face unshaven. That winter, Celie returns for Pa’s funeral. Realizing the man was really her stepfather, Celie is relieved that her children are exempted from an incestual lineage, and she inherits the flourishing homestead that once belonged to her biological father. Sometime later, Celie and Shug walk through the field of purple flowers surrounding the house and Shug declares that God is offended when people fail to notice the divine glory of color. Inspired by natural beauty, Shug resumes singing at Harpo’s saloon one Sunday. However, Shug’s pastor father hears his daughter’s song at his nearby parish and orders the chorus to sing louder and drown out Shug’s voice. Defying her father’s scorn, Shug sings along with the gospel and the saloon patrons, including Celie and Sofia, follow her to the church. There, Shug bellows the Christian verse to her estranged father and they embrace. Meanwhile, back at the Johnson farm, Albert receives a letter addressed to Celie from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. In an attempt to redeem himself, Albert retrieves his hidden savings of cash, goes to the immigration bureau, and secures the safe return of Celie’s family. Sometime later, Celie sees strangers on the horizon of her purple flower field and realizes the African visitors are Nettie, as well as Adam and Olivia. Watching the joyful reunion from Celie’s porch, Shug notices Albert in the distance and recognizes his contribution to Celie’s happiness. 

Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production Company: Amblin Entertainment
Guber-Peters Company
Director: Steven Spielberg (Dir)
  Frank Marshall (2d unit dir, Kenya)
  Gerald R. Molen (Unit prod mgr)
  Pat Kehoe (1st asst dir)
  Richard Alexander Wells (1st asst dir)
  Victoria Elizabeth Rhodes (2d asst dir)
Producer: Steven Spielberg (Prod)
  Kathleen Kennedy (Prod)
  Frank Marshall (Prod)
  Quincy Jones (Prod)
  Jon Peters (Exec prod)
  Peter Guber (Exec prod)
  Carol Isenberg (Assoc prod)
  Quincy Jones (In assoc with)
Writer: Menno Meyjes (Scr)

Subject Major: African Americans
  Battered women
  Long-lost relatives
  Sexual abuse
Subject Minor: Adoption
  Family relationships
  Missing persons, Assumed dead
  Personality change
  Separation (Marital)
  Sexual harassment
  United States. Dept. of Immigration

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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