(director: Blitz Bazawule; screenwriters: Marcus Gardley, based on the novel by Alice Walker and the stage musical with book by Marsha Norman, music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray; cinematographer: Dan Laustsen; editor: Jon Poll; music: Kris Bowers; cast: Fantasia Barrino (Celie), Taraji P. Henson (Shug Avery), Danielle Brooks (Sofia), Colman Domingo (Mister), Corey Hawkins (Harpo), Gabriella Wilson “H.E.R.” (Squeak), Halle Bailey (young Nettie), Clara (adult Nettie), Phylicia Pearl Mpasi (Young Celie),  Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor (Mama), Louis Gossett Jr. (Ol’ Mister), Ciara Nettie, Jon Batiste (Grady), David Alan Grier (Rev Avery), Deon Cole (Alphonso), Tamela Mann (First Lady), Elizabeth Marvel (Miss Millie); Runtime: 141; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Scott Sanders, Quincy Jones; Warner Bros. Pictures; 2023)

“Uneven remake.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Ghana born but based in NYC, Blitz Bazawule (“The Burial of Kojo”), passionately directs the 1985 film’s new heartfelt episodic version, mixing together music with drama, making the remake sunnier and cleaning-up some of the awkward sentimentality issues from the more dramatic original Spielberg one.

The uneven remake is written by the first time screenwriter Marcus Gardley, and it’s based on the Alice Walker 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Color Purple, and the celebrated 2005 Broadway stage musical with book by Marsha Norman, music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray.
It opens in rural Georgia, in 1909. Alfonso (Deon Cole), who is called father by Celie (as a teen played by Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, as an adult by Fantasia Barrino) takes away the two children he impregnated her with when he incestuously raped her when she was 14 (probably murdering them). She’s then forced by her father to marry Mister (Colman Domingo), who trades her to Mister for a cow. When Celie’s studious sister Nettie resists Mister’s sexual advances, she’s kicked out of the house.

Celie’s mistreated in the marriage, but she survives by keeping the faith and believing in God. Her troubled life changes when she meets the strong-minded Sofia (Danielle Brooks-the film’s best performer, in Oprah’s role in the 1985 film and the one she did on the stage) and is encouraged to no longer be abused by Mister. Sofia is married to Mister’s bearable son, the juke-joint owner Harpo (Corey Hawkins), but they soon divorce and she takes Celie to Memphis.

Shug (Taraji P. Henson), the brassy jazz singer ex wife of Mister, is a blues club singer in Memphis and takes Celie under her wings, even becoming lovers.
In time, over a period of four decades, in 1947, the abused Celie overcomes her troubled life to find her own identity as a free Black woman. The uplifting story about a woman’s triumphant fight to be free underlines the feminist’s viewpoint of women being independent.

The music is a mix of gospel and jazz. From the many musical numbers, the song I preferred was the joyous “Keep It Movin” tune sung by Halle Bailey. What also resonated with me was the fine performances by most of the ensemble cast, and the hopeful message it left that even if enslaved by a man a woman can be rescued and live a free life.

The film alerts us that God wants us to find the color purple in the field so he can share with us the love he sees in the world.

REVIEWED ON 1/16/2024  GRADE: B-