Why ‘The Colour Purple’ Was 1985’s Best Film

In Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, ‘The Colour Purple,’ there is a pivotal moment that goes beyond the screen, a moment when Celie, portrayed with poignant brilliance by Whoopi Goldberg, graces the audience with a radiant smile. This smile, amidst the backdrop of her harrowing life, becomes a beacon of hope and resilience, embodying the film’s commitment to authentically narrating Celie’s profound journey.

Celie’s narrative unfolds in the rural South during the early decades of the 20th century, a period marked by racial injustice and the pervasive cruelty that Celie endures. The film adeptly navigates her traumatic childhood, marred by incestuous abuse that results in pregnancy, and the subsequent loss of her children. Celie’s tale is not a simple chronicle of suffering; it is a celebration of her unwavering spirit in the face of adversity.

Image Courtesy: IMDb

Central to Celie’s transformation is the introduction of Shug Avery, a complex character played by Margaret Avery, whose performance brings to life a character both ravaged by life and possessing an indestructible beauty. Shug’s initial harsh words to Celie, deeming her “ugly as sin,” gradually give way to a profound relationship that becomes a turning point in Celie’s life. 

The film delicately explores Celie’s discovery of tenderness and self-love through her interactions with Shug, culminating in a powerful scene where Celie allows herself to smile, embracing a newfound sense of beauty that Shug saw in her all along.

Adapted from Alice Walker’s novel, the film preserves the essence of Celie’s story, told through a series of letters, some never sent, many never received, most addressed to God. This narrative device becomes Celie’s lifeline, a way to maintain sanity in a world indifferent to her struggles. Spielberg masterfully captures the depth and dimension of Walker’s novel, creating a vivid world that extends beyond the confines of the screen.

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The supporting cast adds layers to Celie’s narrative. Danny Glover portrays Mister (Albert), Celie’s cruel and distant husband, whose outward pleasantness masks the depth of his malevolence. Sofia, portrayed by Oprah Winfrey, emerges as an indomitable force of nature determined to defy societal norms. Her character, initially seemingly unstoppable, faces a tragic turning point when her spirit is crushed by a brutal beating and imprisonment. Sofia’s journey becomes a counterpoint to Celie’s, representing wounded resilience juxtaposed with Celie’s gradual healing.

The film skillfully balances the broader canvas of Celie’s community, introducing characters who contribute to the richness of her world. While some elements of Walker’s novel, particularly those dealing with explicit s****l matters, are toned down, Spielberg’s focus remains on the entirety of Celie’s life rather than solely on her erotic education.

Image Courtesy: The Colour Purple

Whoopi Goldberg’s portrayal of Celie is nothing short of extraordinary, earning her the Academy Award for Best Actress. In a role that demands conveying a range of emotions without many spoken lines, Goldberg delivers a fearsomely difficult performance. Spielberg breaks down the wall of silence around Celie by incorporating narrative monologues, allowing the audience to intimately connect with her inner world.

The screenplay, while smoothing some of the novel’s shocking edges, retains the depth and authenticity of Walker’s work. The world of Celie and her counterparts becomes a cinematic realm that, like Oz, Tara, or Casablanca, claims its geography in our collective imagination.

The film’s affirmation at its conclusion resonates with joy so profound that it elicits tears of happiness, earning ‘The Colour Purple’ its place as the best film of its year. Spielberg’s adaptation transcends the confines of a traditional narrative; it becomes a testament to the human spirit’s resilience and the enduring power of storytelling. 

-Britney Jones