The Color Purple is like medicine to me. It’s medicine that I discovered by accident when I was about 11 years old. I was off school with a reoccurring illness that seemed to happen especially on Tuesdays when I had Double Maths and Games. As soon as my parents left for work (obviously kids would never be left alone now!) I would hop out of bed, set up my room as “a writer would” and then take out my epic novel (How New York Became) and begin writing. After a while the packet of chocolate digestives in the kitchen cupboard would call, so I’d go down and have a few. Then I would wander into the lounge, over to the video shelf and select one to watch …
My discovery of The Color Purple was kind of inevitable. I had worked my way along most of the video shelf (horror films, weird sci fi and romantic comedies included) before I came to it. But once I discovered The Color Purple, I stopped watching the others. The storyline gripped me; the music; the characters. I longed for Africa like Celie. I dreamed of Oliva and Adam. My heart sung when Shug Avery sang. I triumphed alongside Sophia as she thwaked the mayor in the face. I cried and cried when she was reunited with her children eight years later. That film sculpted my soul.
When I grew older, I read Alice Walker’s book and began to understand the deeper implications of the story; the three main female characters and their fight for equality and freedom. Shug – the free “fallen” woman, bursting with life, vibrancy and sexuality – and her conflict with her father/the church. Sophia – the strong, abundant, self reliant fighter who stands up against the men in her life but is beaten down by the “white man’s dominance”. Celie – her victimisation that gradually turns into empowerment as she stops talking to a male God and addresses her thoughts to her sister instead. The Color Purple speaks deep truths about the duality and imbalance between man and woman / white and black / strength and weakness. Multidimensional and richly textured, it is a masterpiece.
I hadn’t watched the film since I left home. Then, the other day I found a copy of the DVD and bought it. For several weeks it has sat on my side, waiting to be watched – until last night when I returned home from work feeling zonked. Yes I had a million things still to do. Yes, I had a presentation to prepare (for today). Yes there were children to be looked after, a house to be tidied, washing to be done. But the medicine of The Color Purple won out. With the children safely in bed and tea made, I wrapped myself in my most favourite, unflattering but snug-as-a-bug dressing gown and pressed PLAY on the remote control.
The music started. The field of purple flowers blurred into clarity … And then there I was, longing for Africa … Dreaming of lost loves … Ringing out with joy as Shug sung “The Miss Celie Blues” and “God Is Trying To Tell You Something”. I felt the universal truths rub away my weariness. The medicine still worked.
Click here to see my all time favourite scene from this incredible film.