The Color Purple: A Black American Catharsis

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The Color Purple (1985)

(Editorial wrote in conjunction w/now-deleted YouTube video) Happy belated New Year everyone! Guess what? It’s February — Black History Month. Where have you been Pop Culture Connections? Why the absence? You’re right, it has been quiet here on the channel, hasn’t it? My first video of the year was delayed due to a plethora of events in the news cycle that certainly kept all of us engrossed, plus a family member’s passing and subsequent funeral, and each time I began writing I would hit a wall each and every time so bear with me as I try to parse out my feelings and thoughts here. January alone started with a bang instead of a whimper. Sigh, we’re only two months into the new year and a lot of us are ready to press the reset button, aren’t we? These past two months alone have been tumultuous for the Black community who have witnessed or experienced attacks, violations, assaults, or our deaths on various social media feeds. And it’s always the anniversary of a Black person’s untimely demise.

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Celie’s facial expression towards the world is a mood.

This is why people log off or completely abandon their Twitters, Facebooks, and Instagrams all together. I won’t recount all of the stories thus far — this year in their grim and sometimes gory detail but I will mention some headlines that will resonate with you. Florida McDonalds Employee. R. Kelly Documentary. Jazmine Barnes. New York Black girls strip-searched. Black Trans Women. Jussie Smollett. Liam Neeson. Virginia-Florida and other University Fraternity Blackface traditions. Gucci Balaclava Knit Top. Michelle Rodriguez. Katy Perry Blackface shoes. I debated whether or not to link to these news events or show the photographic chronology of these events, but I decided against it.

I understand that to see Black trauma on the regular is equal parts damaging and depressing. Maybe at a later date I’ll unpack the chaos that was February 2019, or examine the first six months of this year in some kind of retrospective but for now there are big things happening at Pop Culture Connections and tons of videos headed your way so stay tuned because we’ve got a lot of media to dissect. Thank you for allowing me this time and space to release some feelings and context before we start unpacking one of the greatest films ever made. Please sit back and relax as we explore an epic narrative that takes its time to immerse us all in a setting of a very particular time, situated in a very Black American place, but whose narrative threads resonate ad infinitum.

The Color Purple is one of the greatest films ever made…full stop — period — exclamation point, and it is a film that should be required viewing because the characters exist across the Black diaspora but are nestled uniquely in Black American history and with each subsequent re-watch one can glean something new about the variations and interconnectedness of the Black American experience. Every time I watch the film I am struck with unabashed tears and emotions, a feat that few films engender within me. The film taps into deep physical, emotional and spiritual wounds and scars that Black Americans and even those within the Black diaspora have experienced post the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.

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The film delves into some heavy themes regarding Christianity, spirituality, and its significance for Black Americans and the diaspora.

In a multitude of ways, the film represents a Black American catharsis that tries to disentangle the ugliness of colonization, enslavement, enforced Christian religious practice, emancipation, debt peonage, sharecropping, poverty, mass incarceration, segregation, and Jim Crow laws upon the psyche and interpersonal family and community relationships between Black people. The film’s intended consequence is also to air White and Black America’s dirty laundry. So yes, I will be discussing the ‘controversy’ surrounding this film’s Oscar history. The time, space, and place of the Color Purple is ideally about challenging and reclaiming power and the myriad lessons we all need to incorporate about self-love and self-care. Moreover, the film and the book that it’s adapted from is and was revolutionary for examining rape, rape culture, homophobia, misogynoir, and domestic/intimate partner violence between Black Men and Women. The film and book both unearthed deep-seeded work that needs to be done in our communities to repair centuries of damage from many oppressive and repressive power structures.

We love a good film that immerses the Black American experience in our beauty and greatness, but not our ugliness and sorrows it seems. This film walks a delicate balance in establishing that it's healthy and necessary to do both. We need to have discussions about our identity, body image, Black beauty, our hair textures, our image outside of whiteness, our skin color, and the many ways to care, love and/or have sex with each other. This film was revolutionary in another and crucially important way as well by centering its narrative focus on portraying dark skinned (both large and small) girls and women as beautiful, desirable, and worthy of love.

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Celie and Shug Avery as characters are so so important to me.

Additionally, and I’ll even argue that the central figure being a Black Queer Woman elevates this film into the stratosphere. There are few if any films that explore Black Womanness and Black queerness in this multi-layered way whatsoever, especially those where both lovers survive and thrive as the credits roll. I understand that the film did have some executive meddling in regards to the amount and the ambiguity of the relationship that Celie and Shug Avery had, however, it cannot be said that the central women being discussed did not have an intimate and sexual relationship and that their fulfillment came from each other and the men that intermittently existed in their lives were peripheral at most, and what one may even consider “a beard” today at least.

With the way that I continue to hype this film, you’d think that it’d be on the tip of everyone’s tongue and consistently on the Best Picture of all time media studies/film critic lists…well, here’s where you’d be wrong. The Color Purple debuted in 1985, five years before I was born actually, and the film when released was a massive success with enormous profits for the time and accolades like you wouldn’t believe. However, when Oscar season began to ramp into full swing there were a plethora of detractors who were not ready for the gamut and entirety of what The Color Purple represented to be solidified for the masses. The film pricked a nerve that many were not ready to acknowledge, i.e., all of those things I praised the film for. Bulldozing colorism, uplifting Black Girls and Women, showing loving Black Queerness, combating toxic masculinity, highlighting healthy masculinity, encasing Black history in a fresh and educational way, and so on and so on, etcetera etcetera.

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This film has some of the most amazing costuming, cinematography, and world-building I’ve ever seen.

The film if made today would be the Moonlight of this generation for sure and would have so much money, have a cavalcade of think-pieces and video essays, awards, and praise heaped upon it; no ifs, ands or buts about it. Sadly, we see what’s become of the film today — hardly mentioned, under-acknowledged, covered in dust, discarded, and shelved. I’ve often wondered are the generations younger than myself even familiar with the cultural import or impact of this film, or the knowledge that this film even exists. I thought that the Broadway show would generate a massive resurgence in the film’s popularity or relevance and finally finally receive its much deserved just due. Alas, that momentum and larger critical analysis have yet to be achieved.

This film is one that always stays on the periphery of my mind because it explores the energies of the masculine and the feminine in some really radical ways for the time and even today if you ponder on it. The film touches on the inherent energies of the Universe, good and evil, and even the power of magics and curses. This film epitomizes the epic, in scale-design-and scope. If you’re looking for a film experience like no other and have a few hours to immerse yourself in Alice Walker’s world I highly recommend you do so. Get comfortable, stock up on your Kleenexes, and prepare your heart and mind for a timeless cinematic journey.

Editor: We Are Horror Magazine. Writer: An Injustice, Fanfare, Gayly Dreadful, Haw Creek Horror, Rely on Horror, Something Ghoulish, and SUPERJUMP.

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