Happy tears: The musical version of ‘The Color Purple’ may be even better than Spielberg’s version

In 1985, Whoopi Goldberg starred in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple, taking on the role of Celie Johnson in the adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Now we have a second film adaptation—a musical based on the 2005 Broadway hit, with Fantasia Barrino reprising the role of Celie, which she first played on Broadway in 2007. The story of Celie’s rise from early 20th-century abused plantation wife to triumphant entrepreneur is as powerful as ever.

The results here are no less magical than Spielberg’s original gem of a movie. In fact, it might even be even better. The new version is a little edgier and darker in places. Celie’s journey is still painful to behold at first, but it’s redemptive story, and the joyous outcome still brings happy tears to the eyes.

Director Blitz Bazawule—I’m going to go ahead and declare that name one of the best I’ve ever had to type—has rounded out the cast with some real winners. Danielle Brooks reprises her Broadway role of Sofia, a character played by Oprah Winfrey in the original. (Here’s a reminder here that Winfrey is an Academy Award-nominated actress.) Taraji P. Henson takes on the showstopping role of Shug Avery, while Halle Bailey plays young Nettie, and Colman Domingo makes for a terrifying Mister.

Domingo brings a different kind of charismatic sleaziness to the role played memorably by Danny Glover in the original film. Domingo’s charms make it harder to watch when he mistreats Celie; the switch in his behavior is shocking.

Brooks probably has the best shot at an Oscar nomination, with her portrayal of Sofia’s fall being absolutely heartbreaking. But for my money, 2023’s best actress is Fantasia Barrino. Not only does she sing with a majestic power that burns the screen; her dramatic turn is most memorable. Her rendition of “Superpower” amounts to one of the great screen moments of the year.

The music is solid; the cinematography is quite beautiful; and the ensemble is a winner across the board. There’s not much more you can ask of a movie musical—and The Color Purple is one of the year’s best films.

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