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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Strong language is infrequent, but there is an occasional "s--t," "damn," "hell," and "ass," as well as the exclamation of "Jesus!"
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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.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.