AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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The Color Purple
Director: Steven Spielberg (Dir)
Release Date:   18 Dec 1985
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles and New York openings: 18 Dec 1985
Production Date:   began early Jun 1985 in Los Angeles, CA, and North Carolina
Duration (in mins):   152
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Cast:   Danny Glover (Albert [Johnson])  
    Adolph Caesar (Old Mr.)  
    Margaret Avery (Shug Avery)  
    Rae Dawn Chong (Squeak)  
    Oprah Winfrey (Sofia)  
    Akosua Busia (Nettie)  
    Willard Pugh (Harpo)  
  And Introducing Whoopi Goldberg (Celie) as
  Co-Starring Desreta Jackson (Young Celie)  
  Co-Starring Dana Ivey (Miss Millie)  
  Co-Starring Larry Fishburne (Swain)  
  Co-Starring Carl Anderson (Reverend Samuel)  
  Co-Starring John Patton, Jr. (Preacher)  
    Leonard Jackson (Pa )  
    Bennet Guillory (Grady)  
    Susan Beaubian (Corrine)  
    James Tillis (Buster)  
    Phillip Strong (Mayor)  
    Peto Kinsaka (Adam)  
    Lelo Masamba (Olivia)  
    Margaret Freeman (Odessa)  
    Howard Starr (Young Harpo)  
    Daphaine Oliver (Young Olivia)  
    Jadili Johnson (Young Adam)  
    Lillian Njoki Distefano (Young Tashi)  
    Donna Buie (Daisy)  
    Leon Rippy (Store clerk)  
    John R. Hart (Mailman)  
    David Thomas (Road gang leader)  
    Carrie Murray (Loretta)  
    Juliet Poe (Church Sister)  
    Katie Simon (Church Sister)  
    Ethel Taylor (Church Sister)  
    Marcus Covington (Boy)  
    Marcus Liles (Boo)  
    April Myers (Emma)  
    Maurice Moore (Child #1)  
    Lechanda Latharp (Child #2)  
  Jook joint patrons: Drew Bundini Brown    
    Arnold Turner    
    Jeris Lee Poindexter    
  [and] James Hawthorne    
    Saunders Sonny Terry (Jook joint musician)  
    Greg Phillinganes (Jook joint musician)  
    Roy Gaines (Jook joint musician)  
  African musicians: Paulinho Da Costa    
    Nana Yaw Asiedu    
    Clarence Avant    
    Bayo Martin    
    Ndugu Chancler    
    Jeffrey Kwashi    
    Pete Munzhi    
  [and] Aniijia Rae Schockley    

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. 

Production Company: Amblin Entertainment  
  Guber-Peters Company  
Production Text: A Steven Spielberg Film
In association with Quincy Jones
A Guber-Peters Company production
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures (A Warner Communications 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)
Photography: Allen Daviau (Dir of photog)
  Norman G. Langley (Cam op)
  William Eric Engler (Cam op)
  Simon Trevor (Cameraman/Op, Kenya)
  M. Todd Henry (1st asst cam)
  Reginold Newkirk (1st asst cam)
  Martin Kenzie (Focus puller, Kenya)
  Norm Harris (Lighting gaffer)
  Nigel Seal (Gaffer/loader, Kenya)
  Ron Kenyon (Elec best boy)
  Michael McDermott (Elec, Kenya)
  Gene Kearney (Key grip)
  Bob Munoz (Grip best boy)
  Donald Hartley (Dolly grip)
  John Flemming (Grip, Kenya)
  John Shannon (Still photog)
  Gordon Parks (Set photog)
Art Direction: J. Michael Riva (Prod des)
  Robert W. Welch (Art dir)
  Joseph C. Nemec III (Asst art dir)
  John C. Johnson Jr. (Illustrator)
  Ed Verreaux (Illustrator)
Film Editor: Michael Kahn (Film ed)
  Martin Cohen (Asst film ed)
  Craig Bassett (Asst film ed)
  Connie Abellera (Asst film ed)
  Sunrise Film, Inc. (Negative cutting)
Set Decoration: Linda DeScenna (Set dec)
  Erik L. Nelson (Prop master)
  Virginia L. Randolph (Set des)
  Ric McElvin (Lead man)
  Tom McCown (Set dresser)
  Robert E. Scaife (Const coord)
  Ernest Phillips (Stand by painter)
  Daniel L. Ondrejko (Greensman)
Costumes: Aggie Guerard Rodgers (Cost des)
  Francine Jamison (Women's cost supv)
  Don Vargas (Men's cost supv)
  Betty Jean Slater (Women's set cost)
  Bill Tiegs (Men's set cost)
  Harry Rotz (Hats by)
  Joanna Johnston (Ward, Kenya)
Music: Quincy Jones (Mus)
  Tom Bahler (Mus supv)
  Else Blangsted (Supv mus ed)
  Jim Flamberg (Supv mus ed)
  David Marshall (Mus ed)
  Tom Kramer (Mus ed)
  Bruce Botnick (Mus scoring mixer)
  Lyle Burbridge (Mus scoring assoc)
  Brian Banks (Mus scoring preprod)
  Anthony Marinelli (Mus scoring preprod)
  Humberto Gatica (Pre-rec mus mixer)
  Chris Boardman (Mus adpt and orch)
  Jorge Calandrelli (Mus adpt and orch)
  Jimmy Haskell (Mus adpt and orch)
  Jack Hayes (Mus adpt and orch)
  Dick Hazard (Mus adpt and orch)
  Jerry Hey (Mus adpt and orch)
  Randy Kerber (Mus adpt and orch)
  Harvey Mason (Mus adpt and orch)
  Greig McRitchie (Mus adpt and orch)
  Sam Nestico (Mus adpt and orch)
  Joel Rosenbaum (Mus adpt and orch)
  Nathan Scott (Mus adpt and orch)
  Fred Steiner (Mus adpt and orch)
  Bill Summers (Mus adpt and orch)
  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Mus rec at )
  Record Plant (Pre-rec mus rec at )
  Helaine Head (Mus dept asst)
  Mark Ross (Mus dept asst)
  Steve Ray (Mus dept asst)
  Pam Small (Mus dept asst)
  Raoul Roach (Mus dept asst)
  Tata Vega (Shug Avery's vocals performed by)
  Andrea Crouch (Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ Choir arr and cond by)
  Saundra Crouch (Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ Choir arr and cond by)
Sound: Willie Burton (Prod sd mixer)
  Marvin Lewis (Boom man)
  Robert Harris (Cable man)
  Richard L. Anderson (Supv sd ed)
  Larry Singer (Supv ADR ed)
  Buzz Knudson (Re-rec mixer)
  Robert Glass (Re-rec mixer)
  Don DiGirolamo (Re-rec mixer)
  Michael J. Benavente (Sd ed)
  James Christopher (Sd ed)
  Teresa Eckton (Sd ed)
  Sherman Waze (Sd ed)
  Burton M. Weinstein (Sd ed)
  David Whittaker (Sd ed)
  Solange (Supv foley ed)
  John W. Singleton (Foley ed)
  David Williams (Foley ed)
  Matthew C. May (Asst sd ed)
  Gil Haimsohn (Asst sd ed)
  Mark Pappas (Asst sd ed)
  Sarah Monat (Foley by)
  Ed Steidele (Foley by)
  Dean Drabin (Foley mixer)
  Director's Sound (ADR rec at)
  J. R. Westen (ADR mixer)
  Alan Nineberg (ADR ed)
  Rod Rogers (Asst ADR ed)
  Peter Lonsdale (Asst ADR ed)
Special Effects: Matt Sweeney (Spec eff supv)
  Lucinda Strub (Spec eff asst)
  Greg Jensen (Spec eff asst)
  Bob Stoker (Spec eff asst)
  Pacific Title (Titles & opticals by)
Dance: Claude Thompson (Choreog)
Make Up: Ken Chase (Make-up des)
  Robert Stevenson (Supv hairstylist)
  Lola Kemp (Hairstylist)
  Steve La Porte (Make-up artist)
  Richard Alonzo (Make-up artist)
  Michael Laudati (Make-up artist)
  Leila Khan (Hairdresser, Kenya)
Production Misc: Reuben Cannon and Associates (Casting)
  Jo Ann Doster (Loc casting)
  Job Seda (Casting, Kenya)
  Alice Walker (Project consultant)
  Anne Rapp (Scr supv)
  Kokayi Ampah (Loc mgr)
  Lata Ryan (Prod coord)
  Laurel Walter (Prod secy)
  Bonne Radford (Prod controller)
  Bethany Brown (Prod accountant)
  Iris Hedrick (Asst accountant)
  Gene Schwartz (Transportation coord)
  John Feinblatt (Transportation capt)
  Robert Amon (Antique picture cars)
  Bruce Cohen (DGA trainee)
  Julie Moskowitz (Asst to Mr. Spielberg)
  Kathleen Miranda (Secy to Mr. Spielberg)
  Kate Barker (Asst to Ms. Kennedy)
  Mary T. Radford (Asst to Mr. Marshall)
  Madeline Randolph (Asst to Mr. Jones)
  Phyllis Gardner Hirsen (Unit pub)
  Julie Adams (Dialect coach)
  Phil Smith (Wrangler)
  Don Spinney (Animal trainer)
  Mitch Elmahdy (First aid)
  Jim Ealy (First aid)
  For Stars Catering (Caterer)
  Ramon Pahoyo (Craft service)
  Arthur Repola (Post prod supv)
  Patrick Crane (Post prod asst)
  Ken Burton (Projectionist)
  Steven Talmy (Prod assoc)
  Mark Marshall (Prod assoc)
  Rebecca Leventhal (Prod assoc)
  Jeffrey R. Coates (Prod assoc)
  Dorothy Hungerford (Prod assoc)
  Richard Pryor Jr. (Prod assoc)
  Jason Gould (Prod assoc)
  Bobbi Ross (Teacher)
  Judith Jennings (Teacher)
  George Sims (Research)
  Dave Clark (Research)
  Bill Ferris (Research)
  Marshal Royal (Research)
  Snooky Young (Research)
  Vincent Winter (Prod supv, Kenya)
  Barbara Harley (London contact, Kenya)
  Con Cremins (Loc accountant, Kenya)
  Robin Hollister (Prod assoc, Kenya)
  Niegel Dundas (Camp mgr/Animal consultant, Kenya)
  James Robertson (Asst camp mgr, Kenya)
  Monty Ruben (Prod consultant, Kenya)
Stand In: Alex Brown (Stunt double)
  Greg W. Elam (Stunt coord)
Color Personnel: Michael Crane (Lab consultant)
  Jim Schurmann (Col timer)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "Sister's Theme," composed by Quincy Jones, Jeremy Lubbock and Rod Tempteron; "Proud Theme," composed by Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton and Jeremy Lubbock.
Songs: "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)," music by Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton, lyrics by Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton and Lionel Richie; "Makidada," music by Quincy Jones, lyrics by Quincy Jones, Menno Meyjes and Rod Temperton; "I Ain't Gonna Sing No Mo," written by Quincy Jones and Saunders Sonny Terry; "Junk Bucket Blues," written by Porter Grainger, performed by Get Happy Band, courtesy of CBS Records; "The Dirty Dozens," written by J. Mayo Williams and Rufus Perryman; "Don't Make Me No Never Mind (Slow Drag)," written by Quincy Jones, James Ingram and Roy Gaines; "Heaven Belongs To You," written by Andrae Crouch and Saundra Crouch; "Old Ship Of Zion," written by Thomas A. Dorsey; "Maybe God Is Tryin' To Tell You Somethin'," written by Quincy Jones, Andrae Crouch, David Del Sesto and Bill Maxwell; "My Heart," written by Lillian Armstrong, performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, courtesy of CBS Records; "Hot Lips," written by Henry Busse, Henry Lange and Lou Davis, performed by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, courtesy of RCA Records; "High Life," from "Sounds of West Africa," courtesy of Lyrichord Discs, Inc.; "Scarification Chant and Katutoku Corinne," conducted and written by Caiphus Semenya, vocal by Letta Mbulu; "Body and Soul," music by John Green, lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton, performed by Coleman Hawkins and his Orchestra, courtesy of RCA Records.
Composer: Thomas A. Dorsey
  Lou Davis
  Lillian Armstrong
  Henry Busse
  Andrae Crouch
  Saundra Crouch
  David Del Sesto
  Frank Eyton
  Roy Gaines
  Porter Grainger
  John Green
  Edward Heyman
  James Ingram
  Quincy Jones
  Henry Lange
  Jeremy Lubbock
  Bill Maxwell
  Menno Meyjes
  Rufus Perryman
  Lionel Richie
  Caiphus Semenya
  Robert Sour
  Rod Tempteron
  Saunders Sonny Terry
  J. Mayo Williams
Source Text: Based on the novel The Color Purple by Alice Walker (New York, 1982).
Authors: Alice Walker

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Brothers, Inc. 20/3/1986 dd/mm/yyyy PA290480

PCA NO: 27996
Physical Properties: Sd: Dolby Stereo in selected theatres
  col: Color by DeLuxe®
  Lenses/Prints: Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®

 
Genre: Drama
 
Subjects (Major): African Americans
  Battered women
  Long-lost relatives
  Racism
  Rape
  Sexual abuse
  Sisters
 
Subjects (Minor): Adoption
  Africa
  Family relationships
  Farmers
  Flowers
  Georgia
  Immigration
  Incest
  Lesbianism
  Maids
  Missing persons, Assumed dead
  Missionaries
  Orphans
  Personality change
  Prohibition
  Saloons
  Separation (Marital)
  Servants
  Sexual harassment
  Stepfathers
  Singers
  United States. Dept. of Immigration

Note: End credits include "Special thanks" to: the Huntley Family, David Dykis, the North Carolina Film Commission, the Anson County Historical Society, and the citizens of Anson and Union Counties, North Carolina.
       According to the 6 Sep 1985 Publishers Weekly, author Alice Walker was initially reticent about selling screen rights to her 1982 Pultizer Prize and American Book Award winning novel, The Color Purple. She convened with a group of five women to discuss the merits of executive producers Jon Peters and Peter Gruber’s offer. At that time, the men were known for their recent 1983 blockbuster Flashdance (see entry), and Walker was concerned about Hollywood’s portrayal of women and African Americans. The friends concluded the only way to improve the exploitation of minorities was to work within the prevailing system, and Walker agreed to the deal.
       As stated in the Dec 1985 edition of San Francisco Focus, Walker’s contract stipulated she would serve as project consultant and fifty percent of the production team, aside from the cast, would be African American, female, or “people of the Third World.” Walker was also involved with casting and lobbied for “lesser-known actors” because their rise from obscurity represented the experience of characters in her novels. Publishers Weekly stated Walker selected Whoopi Goldberg to star in her feature film debut as “Celie” after seeing the comedienne perform in a small, San Francisco, CA, cabaret. However, San Francisco Focus maintained that Goldberg lobbied for a role in the picture before screen rights were sold. A 15 Feb 1985 LAT article, which announced Steven Spielberg had been contracted to direct and produce the picture, noted Goldberg was already being courted by several Hollywood studios at that time, and had recently signed a two-picture deal with Warner Bros. Pictures, the film’s distributor. San Francisco Focus reported that producer Quincy Jones personally selected Spielberg to direct, despite skepticism from Walker fans and the African American community, who questioned whether a white male could adequately capture the central story of a black woman. A 15 Dec 1985 NYT article stated that Spielberg waived his salary to direct the $15 million picture, and earned only the Directors Guild of America’s (DGA) required minimum wage of $40,000.
       Detractors also doubted the hiring of Dutch, male screenwriter, Menno Meyjes, to adapt Walker’s novel. According to San Francisco Focus, Walker wrote a draft of the screenplay herself, but agreed to turn the job over to Meyjes on condition that she maintain script approval. She reportedly collaborated with Meyjes, adding lines and making adjustments during production. Publishers Weekly noted that Meyjes worked closely with Spielberg on The Color Purple, which marked his first theatrically-produced feature film script. As stated in Publishers Weekly, Meyjes wrote the initial draft in three weeks and, after a series of daily meetings with Spielberg, composed five drafts within the next five months to complete the final screenplay. Walker noted that she felt greater empathy for the novel’s male characters in Meyjes’ adaptation than she did when she was writing the novel. She also helped the actors translate their lines with greater authenticity, teaching them the pacing and rhythm of the Southern black dialect she new as a child. The 15 Dec 1985 NYT added that the novel’s attention to the lesbian relationship between Celie and “Shug Avery” was vastly truncated in the film.
       Walker’s daughter, Rebecca Leventhal, is credited onscreen as production associate.
       A 23 Apr 1985 HR news item stated that principal photography was scheduled to begin 3 Jun 1985 in Los Angeles, CA, because Spielberg’s then-wife, actress Amy Irving, was due to deliver their child around that time. According to the 15 Dec 1985 NYT, Amy Irving went into labor on 12 Jun 1985, the same moment in which Spielberg was filming “take three” of the scene in which “Celie” gives birth. San Francisco Focus noted that Spielberg’s infant son, Max, and Amy Irving, were consistently present on the set. The film was poised for a Dec 1985 release to attract Academy Award consideration, as noted in a 24 May 1985 LAHExam brief.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files and San Francisco Focus, North Carolina provided the primary locations for the film, even though Walker’s novel reflected her childhood memories in segregated Eatonton, Georgia. While production offices were headquartered at a Holiday Inn in Monroe, NC, photography took place the small Union County town of Marshville, where clay was poured over modern paved streets. In addition, sets were situated at an antebellum plantation in Anson County, near Wadesboro, NC, as stated in a Feb 1986 AmCin article. The farm was leased for a total of six months, with the time divided equally between construction and filming. A small, sixty-year-old Baptist church, threatened with demolition, was relocated to the plantation, where “Harpo’s” saloon and Celie’s home were also constructed. The field in front of Celie’s house was sown with purple flowers that bloomed within two weeks, providing the location of Celie’s climactic conversation with “Shug Avery” and her reunion with “Nettie.” In the last week of filming, the flowers were replaced with fabricated snow for winter scenes, even though the actors were enduring sweltering summer heat. Other parts of the picture were filmed by a second unit in the Maasai tribal areas of Kenya, as well as in the country’s capital, Nairobi. At that time, Spielberg remained in the U.S. to edit the film. The production spent its first three weeks at Universal City Studios in Los Angeles, CA, as stated in another Feb 1986 AmCin article.
       The picture provoked controversy in the African American community before and after its 18 Dec 1985 domestic release in 200 theaters. On 1 Nov 1985, both LA Weekly and HR stated that the twenty members of the Coalition Against Black Exploitation (CABE) released formal complaints about the film’s alleged degrading representation of black men and the “subtle promotion of lesbianism,” claiming that such portrayals conveyed “a negative message that is potentially destructive to the black family.” The organization demanded access to the shooting script and meetings to discuss changes in the narrative. Although Warner Bros. representatives were reportedly “sympathetic,” and CABE received a letter signed by both Quincy Jones and Alice Walker, the filmmakers did not agree to a meeting, and a demonstration took place in front of Jones’s Los Angeles office on 9 Nov 1985, as reported in the 10 Nov 1985 LAHExam. Several days after the film’s opening, a 20 Dec 1985 LAT article noted the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) joined CABE in its concern about the depiction of black men, but hailed the production for employing more African American actors and filmmakers than any motion picture to date since Sounder (1972, see entry). Although CABE sponsored another protest outside the AMPAS Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles on 17 Dec 1985, several members admitted most of the group had not yet seen the picture. African American California State Assemblywoman, Maxine Waters, who organized an exclusive screening for the Black Woman’s Forum, argued that the film was not “degrading or dehumanizing.”
       One week after its release, the film was honored as the National Board of Review’s Best Film of 1985, and Whoopi Goldberg was singled out as Best Actress. Although the picture garnered mixed reviews from both critics and audiences, it outperformed all other Christmas 1985 releases, as noted in a 28 Dec 1985 LAT article. A Warner Bros. press release in AMPAS library files announced that the film earned $1,710,333 its opening weekend, then received an eighty-five percent increase per theater in its second weekend, grossing $3,162,958 from 27 Dec 1985 to 29 Dec 1985 in 202 domestic engagements. In a 5 Jan 1986 Chicago Tribune article, critic Gene Siskel interviewed two black leaders about the film’s controversy and noted that Walker gave the film a “timid endorsement” due to its “softened version” of her novel. However, Walker attended a red-carpet screening of the picture one month after its release in her hometown of Eatonton, as stated in the 21 Jan 1986 Daily News. There, the film was released in a formerly segregated theater, where Walker and other black residents were once forced to sit in the balcony. The Color Purple continued to gain momentum, and on 23 Jan 1986, HR announced that Warner Bros. added 352 theaters the previous Friday, 17 Jan 1986, and the film had earned a four day gross of $6,819,607 over Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend, amassing a net total of $26,148,105 to date.
       The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards in the following categories: Actress in a Leading Role (Whoopi Goldberg), Actress in a Supporting Role (Margaret Avery), Actress in a Supporting Role (Oprah Winfrey), Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup, Music (Original Score), Music (Original Song, “Miss Celie’s Blues [Sister]”), Writing, and Best Picture. According to a 7 Feb 1986 LAT article, film industry insiders were surprised by the omission of Spielberg as Best Director, and speculation circulated that other filmmakers were envious of his success, that there was an error in the Price-Waterhouse computer calculations, or that voters were swayed by the film’s negative reviews. Many colleagues complained that Spielberg turned the sophisticated, dark narrative into a clichéd, feel-good fairy tale. They also commented that the producer-director may have wished to mark his first Academy Award win with The Color Purple, since he had been nominated previously three times without receiving recognition. However, Spielberg was honored with the Directors Guild of America’s (DGA) Best Director award, and noted in his acceptance speech that his colleagues may have been “making a statement” against his Academy Awards’ snub, according to a 10 Mar 1986 LAT article. When The Color Purple failed to win any of its eleven Academy Award nominations, the Hollywood-Beverly Hills, CA, chapter of the NAACP, which had previously voiced its concern about the film’s depiction of black men, issued a formal complaint against the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The 26 Mar 1986 HR cited the NAACP’s claim that the slight was a “black-out,” a term used to illustrate the film industry’s suppression of African American projects.
       Ten years later, a 6 Feb 1996 LAT article announced the publication of Alice Walker’s latest book, The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult, which described her experiences during production of The Color Purple and the ensuing controversy. According to LAT, Walker not only endured, in her words, “the severe criticism, bashing, [and] trashing” of her literary work and her decision to adapt it into a Spielberg film, but also suffered great personal difficulties during the time of the film’s release. Walker’s mother suffered a stroke, leaving her paralyzed, and Walker, herself, feared she was dying from Lyme disease. At the same time, Walker’s romantic partner, Robert Allen, announced he had been having an affair because he was envious of Walker’s success. Although Walker had reservations about the film version of The Color Purple, she noted that she never expected the picture to replicate the novel, and that “successful does not mean perfect… successful is adequate.”
 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Feb 1986   pp. 50-56.
American Cinematographer   Feb 1986   pp. 58-64.
Box Office   8 Jan 1979.   
Chicago Tribune   5 Jan 1986   Section 13, pp. 16-19.
Daily News   21 Jan 1986.   
Daily Variety   13 Dec 1978.   
Hollywood Reporter   4 Jan 1985.   
Hollywood Reporter   23 Apr 1985.   
Hollywood Reporter   1 Nov 1985.   
Hollywood Reporter   17 Dec 1985   p. 3, 16.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Jan 1986.   
Hollywood Reporter   26 Mar 1986.   
LAHExam   24 May 1985.   
LAHExam   10 Nov 1985.   
Los Angeles Times   15 Feb 1985.   
Los Angeles Times   18 Dec 1985   p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times   20 Dec 1985   p. 1, 20.
Los Angeles Times   28 Dec 1985   p. 1, 7.
Los Angeles Times   7 Feb 1986   Section VI, p. 1, 8.
Los Angeles Times   10 Mar 1986   Section VI, p. 1, 9.
Los Angeles Times   6 Feb 1996   Section E, pp. 1-2.
LA Weekly   1 Nov 1985.   
New York Times   15 Dec 1985   p. 1, 23.
New York Times   18 Dec 1985   p. 18.
Publishers Weekly   6 Sep 1985   p. 45, 48.
San Francisco Focus   Dec 1985   p. 92, 94, 96-97, 218.
Variety   18 Dec 1985   p. 16.

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