If you grew up around black women then you already know how we connect with films and plays that we can feel and understand–stories that we can empathize with. Movies like Waiting To Exhale and The Color Purple are great examples. These are the types of films that we can shout in agreement to. Every black woman knows that if he cheated and wasted your time, “it’s trash.” Period.
I grew up in a household where we didn’t have cable tv until I was maybe nine years old. My Grandfather had full reign on the tv in the kitchen but for some reason, whenever The Color Purple came on,he let it play. And I remember watching this movie A LOT as a kid. I can recall that one of my Grandmother’s favorite scenes is when Shug returns to the church and says “See Daddy? Sinners have soul too.”
As a kid, I could only pick up on surface issues that TCP touched on. I couldn’t understand what the bigger picture. When I got to high school, we read the book in my senior AP English class (shout out to Mrs. D). I was the only black person in class. Most of the kids in my class were middle-class suburban types. I felt uncomfortable but also empowered because I had been watching TCP on repeat for the last 10 years. I had a head start. I knew the story like it was mine. I was the only kid in class who had ever seen the movie.
I loved the book. I loved it because I could hear the voices from the movie as a read it. I loved it because Celie wrote to a God she wasn’t sure existed. I loved it because Nettie kept the faith and kept writing to Celie for so many years knowing that Mr. was hiding her letters from Celie. I loved that we could see both of their evolutions in the letters and diary entries. I finished the book before the rest of the class.
TCP is a story about the plight of the black woman. Of mothers, sisters, friends, and lovers. It shows how black women are broken down by our male counterparts and objectified. It does an epic job of explaining the many forms of imprisonment black woman face. Abusive relationships, being labeled a harlot, being considered less than human as a whole. Even though this particular story begins in 1908, things like this are still happening today all over the world to brown girls.
After we finished the book, we watched the movie in Mrs. D’s English class. She asked us why we think this story is call The Color Purple. I sat silent. I watched my classmates seemingly struggle. I remember feeling angry that they couldn’t come up with answers. Did we read the same book? Were we watching the same movie? We weren’t. I was seeing it through generations of black women that came before. The Color Purple is OUR story. It wasn’t a handful of white suburban kids’ story. It was mine.
My answer: purple is the color of bruises on brown skin which represents pain and struggling. Purple is the color of the flowers in the fields where Celie spends a portion of her time. Purple is rare in nature. Shug told Celie that she thinks it pisses God off if we see the color purple and don’t acknowledge it. Purple is the color of royalty. Alice Walker is trying to tell us that many times the most rare flower beckons our attention, appreciation, and affection. Things black women are fighting for–in so many different ways–everyday. The class was silent.
When I found out that The Color Purple was on Broadway again–and that Jennifer Holliday was playing Shug–I knew I had to see it. For me. For my Grandmother. For all the brown girls. So I trekked to NYC in the wind and snow. I was fortunate to be able to see it on my birthday during its closing weekend. I sat front in center, second row from the stage. It was glorious.
There was something special about the audience that night. We seemed to be affecting the actors the same way they were affecting us. Tears were shed. It felt like I hadn’t been to church in several years and I just happened upon a Revival. I felt like I was sitting next to my Grandmother again watching The Color Purple for the last time. I felt…words can’t properly explain the emotions I felt when watching TCPM on stage. I haven’t talked to God since my Grandmother died over 2 years ago but he was talking to me onstage. I felt every word. I was so moved by these men and women on stage. And they were visibly moved by the audience’s receptions. It was hard to discern what was acting and what was pure, raw emotion.
The music was EVERYTHING. Cynthia Erivo’s voice seemed to flow out of her vocal cords so effortlessly as she sang Celie’s parts. Her sass and wit were wonderful to watch onstage. Jennifer Holliday as Shug Avery….just YES! My friend was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Danielle Brooks (Taystee from OITB) perform as Sofia but I LOVED Carrie Compere. She embodied the spunk and strength that Sofia’s character represents. Let’s not forget the three church ladies with their sassy gossip–their facial expressions were PRICELESS.
When I say I felt more at home in that theater than I had in such a long time, I mean that. I felt like I was holding my breath throughout the entire show and when Celie finally exclaims “I’m Here!” I just about lost it. I saw myself if Celie’s character more than I ever have before. Feeling trapped and wanting to go somewhere but can’t have been revolving doors in my life. For most of my life I have been bullied by my peers. I’ve been called ugly, fat, and all other sorts of names. But I’m HERE. We–black women–are HERE.
And we are beautiful.