The Colour Purple trailer is here and queer fans are concerned
The first trailer for Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg’s latest musical adaptation of The Color Purple has landed.
Since it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, Alice Walker’s seminal Black lesbian novel has blazed a trail in pop culture. Spielberg’s 1985 film, which starring Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg, was nominated for a staggering 11 Oscars, and, later, the 2005 Broadway musical from Pulitzer-Prize-winner Marsha Johnson landed a Tony award.
The 2015 revival, starring Wicked‘s Cynthia Erivo, garnered another round of nominations and gongs and the upcoming movie musical adaptation looks set to be equally as impressive.
The story, adapted this time by Marcus Gardley (and using Marsha Norman’s musical book), follows Celie who narrates her life as an African-American woman living in rural Georgia from the early to mid-20th century.
When Celie is married off to the main antagonist, Mister, to save her sister Nettie from the same fate, she grows intimate with his long-time lover Shug and builds a beautiful friendship with her neighbour Sofia.
Fantasia Barrino, who played Celie in the original Broadway musical, and Orange is the New Black‘s Danielle Brooks, who played Sofia in the 2015 revival, are both reprising their roles, while Hidden Figures star Taraji P. Henson plays Shug.
The Little Mermaid‘s Halle Bailey, meanwhile, stars as a young Nettie, with singer Ciara playing her adult counterpart.
Now that the first trailer for the remake has landed, it’s clear that the cast are going to be absolutely electric. Even though we get but the smallest glimpse of the action, the magnetic performances from Henson and Barrino look sure to scoop nominations come the next awards-season cycle.
But while many fans have been blown away by the trailer, a fair few are concerned that the vital queer storyline between Celie and Shug could be erased. Their concerns aren’t unfounded: in the 1985 film, their romantic relationship was entirely cut, save for a single kiss.
Spielberg reflected on the harsh criticism he received from the LGBTQ+ community and beyond in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2011.
“I was shy about it,” he said. “In that sense, perhaps I was the wrong director to acquit some of the more sexually honest encounters between Shug and Celie, because I did soften those. I basically took something that was extremely erotic and very intentional, and I reduced it to a simple kiss. I got a lot of criticism for that.”
While the Broadway musical stays true to the lesbian roots of the novel, it also ran into trouble in 2019 when the hit came to the UK and cast actor Seyi Omooba as Celie. She was eventually cut from the cast following homophobic remarks and a refusal to play a lesbian character.
Nevertheless, given that screenwriter Gardley is openly gay, with LGBTQ+ shows such as Tales of the City under his belt, queer fans are hopeful that the movie musical will finally get it right.
Teasing what to expect from the film at CinemaCon 2023, Barrino said: “You’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna cry, everybody brings it. But in the end, you’ll be healed. Because guess what? I was healed.”
Meanwhile, Oprah said that fans can expect “magical realism, wholesome family goodness and some of the best actors you’ve ever seen.”
She added: “The Color Purple in 1985 was the biggest and most important thing that happened to me. This is a full-circle moment to be part of this film. It holds great personal meaning.”
The Colour Purple is due to open in the US on 25 December and in UK cinemas on 26 January 2024.
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