The Color of Purple: Film vs. Book

This week was the first time I have seen  The Color fo Purple, but I have a long history with the book from when  I picked it up in my English class at a too young age. During the movie, especially during that swell of feeling at the end, I really liked the movie. Don’t let me portray myself wrong, I still do. But, as time passes, I am more and more discomforted by two thematic shifts in the movie.

I was startled by the change in Shug and Celie’s storyline. It became a story of quiet longing, interrupted or enflamed by their one explicitly sexual encounter in the movie (though there was a lot of tension). I remember their love story being much more fleshed out, the depiction of the ebb and flow of their relationship a sizable part of the book. For good reason, the joyful playful sexuality in their relationship was a necessary counter balance to the more violent sexual encounters of the book. The re-focusing seemed to give more weight to Shug’s evolution to take advantage of her character’s performative aspects to fuel the narrative.


(This is a great storytelling moment).

I also questioned the displacement of all the anxiety over ritualized body mutilation in Africa to just the scarring on the face. The anxiety built cutting back and forth between murderous Celie and the frenzied ritual seemed non-relational. I wasn’t sure if the moment when the drop of blood flows from the child’s cheek was supposed to just anticipate Celie’s action. But then, the way the camera lingers on the “otherness” of the frenzied tribe against the distressed missionaries implies some large stake that the small scars on the face that are shown does not merit. The scarier tools that are shown might have been supposed to imply the genital mutilation that takes place in the book, but if you haven’t read the book you would not have a good chance of catching that reference.  This strange conflation voids that scene of the larger feminist significance that was there in the book.
This clip from a documentary about The Color of Purple talks about the origin of the book (around 1:03). Around 3 min. mark, you see Alice Walker reading aloud from the book. The change in the rhythm of her speech from when she is being interviewed to when she is reading aloud is notable.

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2 Responses

  1. Could you elaborate a bit on what happens in Africa and its connection to the overall narrative? I haven’t read the book, so I’d like to know a little more.

  2. It’s been awhile since I’ve read the book, but the letters from Nettie go into much more detail about her life and struggles in Africa. One of the issues she grapples with is Tashi’s genital mutilation. I know Alice Walker is very involved with this issue. This is framed as a feminist issue, another suppression of women by society, even though this society is not Western society. I suspect (but don’t remember specifically) that Alice Walker was commenting on moral relativism as well. Also, after Corrine dies, Nettie and the minister marry, both, I believe, because of love and societal pressure from the Olinka.

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