How the 2023 Musical The Color Purple Differs from the Original 1985 Film
An updated version of Alice Walker’s classic novel is bolder and more vibrant.
In her most recent ELLE cover story, Taraji P. Henson stated, “I remember being on a set and looking around like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never seen Black people look so beautiful.'” She’s talking about her Christmas Day experience filming The Color Purple. Based on the Tony-winning play, the new musical reworking stars Henson, Danielle Brooks, Fantasia Barrino-Taylor, H.E.R., and a number of other notable performers, including as Colman Domingo and Corey Hawkins.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, the narrative centers on Celie, a young woman who, over the course of several years, goes from girlhood to maturity (played by Whoopi Goldberg in the original film and Barrino-Taylor in the new one). Following a difficult upbringing marred by cruelty and abandonment, Celie ultimately discovers forgiveness, affection, and the strength of sisterhood.
That being said, The Color Purple has appeared on the big screen before. Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, and Whoopi Goldberg starred in the first adaption, which Steven Spielberg directed back in 1985. What differences exist between the new 2023 movie and the original? Here, we examine some of the primary distinctions between the two.
Celie is the primary protagonist of The Color Purple. The story is told in an epistolary fashion throughout the book, with each chapter being written as a letter from Celie to God. These letters end up becoming voiceovers that play continuously in the original 1985 movie. This narrative is not part of the new musical.
Celie’s mother only makes voiceover references and never makes an on-screen appearance in the original movie. In the first scenes of the new movie, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor’s character plays her mother, and we get to see her in flashbacks.
The Character of the Midwife
Only Celie’s sister Nettie (played by Halle Bailey and Ciara in the new version and Akosua Busia in the original) is in the room with her when Celie gives birth to her second kid in the original. A midwife now joins Celie and Nettie in the updated edition. This character’s addition is particularly noteworthy because Whoopi Goldberg, who played Celie in Spielberg’s movie, is playing her.
One of Celie’s closest confidants is Shug Avery, who was portrayed by Margaret Avery in the original film and Taraji P. Henson in the new one. Shug visits her lover Mister, who also happens to be Celie’s husband and is portrayed by Colman Domingo in the current version and Danny Glover in the original, and the two become friends.
When they start dating, their friendship takes a new turn. However, in the first film, this is somewhat toned down and the two just exchange a quick kiss. Although there are no explicit sexual scenes depicted, they kiss, sing a tender duet in an empty auditorium, and spend the night together in the new film. Additionally, in the original, Shug plays “Miss Celie’s Blues” as he serenades Celie in the juke joint. In the recently released film, once they both manage to flee Mister’s house, she serenades Celie on her birthday.
Mister’s son from a previous marriage, Harpo (Corey Hawkins in the new, Willard E. Pugh in the original) is the spouse of Sofia (Danielle Brooks in the new, Oprah Winfrey in the original). In addition, she is among Celie’s closest pals. Celie pays Sofia a visit in jail when she is jailed in the new movie for slapping a white guy; in the original, no one from the family shows up to welcome her upon her release.
Relationship Between Celie and Nettie
The younger sister of Celie, Nettie is referred to as “the only person who loves her in the world.” In the original, there’s a cute sequence where Nettie uses names to teach Celie how to read on various things, such as “kettle,” “apple,” and “iron.” Sadly, the new movie does not include this. An inside look at Nettie’s adult life is another thing that is absent from the latest film. In the original, we get scenes of Celie’s new life as a missionary in Africa after she discovers the missing letters that Nettie has been sending her for years. The only time we learn about Nettie’s life in the new movie is when Celie reads Shug her letters aloud.