The Color Purple

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

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 7 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

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.

Violence

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.

Sex

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.

Language

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

Consumerism
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 of a 10 year old Written byGenral Greg August 10, 2010

A Great Film for a More Mature Audience

This was a great film that deals with many issues, most of them not appropriate for children. However, for the more mature, older teen, there are very positive... Continue reading
Parent of an infant year old Written byFosterFan October 2, 2011

Female empowerment + anti-racism= Great film.

The Color Purple is Whoopi's. She owns, makes and elevates it. Maybe a little over-sentimental, but it's undeniably powerful. That being said, the mo... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byalainacutie April 9, 2008

a good book

I had to read this book for a college english class and I thought it was very appropriate. I think it might be harder for kids of a younger age to read jsut bec... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byRicochet94 November 3, 2010

One of Spielbergs best!

Words of caution: this movie is very intense, moreso than most R films I have seen. A 14-year-old girls stepfather sexually impregnates her, then takes the baby... Continue reading

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

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

For kids who love powerful stories

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate