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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
- In theaters: February 7, 1986
- On DVD or streaming: April 24, 1991
- Cast: Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 152 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: emotional intensity, violence and mature themes
- Last updated: June 18, 2021
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