The Color Purple

Movie review by
Randy White, Common Sense Media
The Color Purple Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Powerful tale of survival with wrenching scenes of abuse.
  • PG-13
  • 1986
  • 152 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 8 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There are many messages in this Alice Walker adaptation, from the way women and African Americans were treated in the first half of the 20th century to the importance of perseverance and keeping your dignity under the most difficult circumstances. Racism, sexism, marriage, sex, parenting, it's all explored in this multi-decade story. The movie has an underlying feminist theme about the importance of strong, unconditional relationships between women.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The female characters are resilient in their ability to survive and maintain their dignity under oppressive circumstances. On the other hand, given that this movie is set in the first decades of the 20th century, there are many racist and sexist characters who treat women and African Americans like second-class citizens -- but they're clearly in the wrong.


The story is full of verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. From the very first scene, when a 14-year-old girl painfully gives birth to a baby fathered by her own father, the abuse is near-constant in the young girl's life. In one of the movie's most emotional scenes, two sisters are painfully separated by an abusive man. The sex is usually disturbing and non-consensual. A barroom brawl leads to many characters punching each other and breaking furniture. One character almost slits another's throat with a straight razor, but is stopped in the nick of time.


Although there's no graphic sex, there are many references to sexual relationships, including adultery. One early sex scene focuses on close-ups of faces and a shaking headboard. Another conversation about sex contrasts a wife's miserable "grin and bear it" experience with a mistress' pleasurable one with the same man. Two female characters laugh, kiss, and caress each other, and the scene ends with the implication that they go on to make love, but it's not shown.


Strong language is infrequent, but there is an occasional "s--t," "damn," "hell," and "ass," as well as the exclamation of "Jesus!"

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink to excess and socially in several scenes in homes (usually at meals) and at nightclubs. Two male characters are shown drunk in a few scenes, and a few of the men smoke cigarettes and cigars.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Color Purple is an intense drama adapted from the novel by award-wining author Alice Walker. It deals with serious themes -- incest, marital abuse, overt racism and sexism -- that are not appropriate for young children. On the other hand, mature teenagers will benefit from seeing the movie, as it will open their eyes about the difficulties women -- especially black women -- experienced in the early 20th century. Many scenes include glimpses of violence and abuse, all against women, but here are also positive messages about the importance of women's relationships with other women, the power of the sisterly bond, and the human capacity to overcome oppression.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byJefferson402 June 18, 2021
The movie portrays characters enduring traumatic experiences which are challenging and disturbing but which we can’t deny are still a reality in our society. Co... Continue reading
Adult Written bybigmoviefan2020 November 26, 2020

Intnese/packed with scary, tense moments

R: sequences of strong violence/peril, some sexual comments and language
Teen, 13 years old Written byEmmaBentley2024 September 2, 2019

So many tears!

This movie will make you cry! When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I felt kind of meh, about it (it didn't help that the trailer was the first five... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old May 16, 2016

Graphic and violent but outstanding emotional abuse movie has lots of sex and some rape.

My rating:R for strong violence, sexuality and nudity, a sexual assault, language, and disturbing content.

What's the story?

In this inspiring, wrenching drama based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE COLOR PURPLE, Whoopi Goldberg plays Celie, a Southern woman who has been abused all her life. Her current abuser is her husband, Mister (Danny Glover). Various women in her life slowly help Celie find strength in herself. Eventually, correspondence with her sister in Africa gives Celie the courage to stand up to Mister. This film marks director Steven Spielberg's stab at a serious historical drama after the much lighter fare of the first two Indiana Jones movies.

Is it any good?

This movie isn't for the weak of heart; it deals with real, traumatic issues, including child abuse, sexual abuse, racism, and sexism. But for teens who can weather the subject matter, the story of a woman's journey from abuse to independence is inspiring. There's a great deal to admire in this sweeping epic, starting with the simple fact that complex African-American characters like those presented here are rarely seen in American movies. Goldberg, nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, shines as the abused Celie, as does Glover as her brutish husband. Oprah Winfrey made a memorable impression as the strong-willed Sofia even before she was a household name.

The Color Purple brings out radically different responses in viewers. Those who like sentimental material tend to be extremely moved by the story. But other viewers find the movie overly grandiose, with scene after scene designed to be gut wrenching. Part of the problem lies in the transfer from the page to the screen. The filmmakers never quite solve the problem of adapting such dense literary material, moving from high point to high point in an attempt to cover the full sweep of the novel. Internal thoughts are delivered as stilted voice-overs, a poor device filmmakers resort when they see no other way to work a character's personal psychology into a movie.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the abuse scenes in The Color Purple. What feelings did they bring up in you? How did Celie's relationship with Sophia help her survive? How can family members help one another survive and heal from traumatic experiences?

  • Talk about film adaptations of novels. What makes these kinds of adaptations successful? What are the pitfalls? Do you think this was a successful adapation?

  • How have times have changed for women -- especially black women -- since the era in which the story takes place? Has anything remained the same? Why are the challenges faced by women of color different than those faced by white women?

  • How do the characters in The Color Purple demonstrate perseverance and resilience? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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