An extraordinary film based on an immensely powerful novel of the same name by Alice Walker, The Color Purple is a reflection on the conditions prevailing in the United States in the early 1900s, and the state of African American women in those times. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film tells the story of Celie Harris (Whoopi Goldberg), a poor African American girl growing up in the Southern United States. Celie is a victim of early abuse, having been twice impregnated by the man she believes to be her father by the age of fourteen. Her children are taken away from her and she is made to marry a local farmer Albert Johnson (Danny Glover) who had had his eyes on her younger sister Nettie. She suffers further abuse, verbal and physical, at the hands of her husband, until she is left a mere silent shadow of a being, devoid of any spirit. The one bright spot in Celie’s life is her sister Nettie who comes to stay with them in order to escape their father’s lasciviousness. However when Nettie rejects Albert’s advances, he forces her to leave by physically throwing her out in what makes a heart wrenching scene, with Celie desperately clinging on to her sister. Nettie leaves, promising to write, but Celie never receives her letters, making her believe that her sister had died. After Nettie’s departure Celie falls further into her pit of despair. Her step-son Harpo marries a vocal, intimidating woman names Sophia (Oprah Winfrey) but when he attempts to lord over her she leaves him, taking her children with her. The sudden reappearance of Alfred’s old lover, Shug Avery (Margaret Avery), is the turning point for Celie, as she finds herself increasingly attracted to Shug. Shug is the one who inspires Celie to throw of her diffidence and recover some of her old spirit. News from her sister further lends Celie strength until she is able to defy Albert and leave together with Shug. After many tumultuous events and emotional scenes the movie ends with Celie’s touching reunion with her children and Nettie and indication of a change of heart in Albert.
The movie is a disturbing revelation of the cruel and brutal treatment meted out to women in a society where they are commoditized. The double subjugation suffered for being a black and a woman is clear in a time when a ‘coloured’ man was treated as sub-human by the whites and a ‘coloured’ woman treated even worse by the men. This is spelled out unerringly in the movie when Alfred screams out to Celie as she drives away from him, “You’re black, you’re poor, you’re ugly, you’re a woman, you’re nothing at all!”
The movie scarcely follows the plot of the novel, with a large chunk of the original story missing, which includes Nettie’s account of Africa. Moreover the entire issue of lesbianism, which is a major theme in the book, is barely hinted at due to its controversial nature. However in spite of its drawbacks the movie is still one of Spielberg’s finest creations. It is successful in portraying a heart rending account of a woman who learns to fight against injustice and the agents of her suffering. Spectacular performances on the part of the entire cast, flawless direction and a moving story line makes this movie well deserving of its title as a classic.