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From bestselling book to musical film adaptation, here's how 'The Color Purple' has evolved

"The Color Purple" has seen much success over the years.

"The Color Purple" has evolved many times over the years.

Starting from the book that Alice Walker wrote in 1982, the story starring Celie — a young, uneducated African American woman, who ends up being abused by her much older husband, Mister — has captivated fans worldwide.

In 1985, the book was turned into a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, Danny Glover as Mister and Oprah Winfrey as Sofia, an outspoken Black woman who encourages Celie to stand up for herself.

The movie garnered much praise after its release, receiving 11 Oscar nominations. Two decades later, the film was turned into a Broadway musical, which at one point, in 2007, starred Fantasia Barrino as Celie.

After the musical production was revived in 2015, Barrino was once again tapped to play Celie in the 2023 film adaptation of the Broadway musical.

During a Dec. 14 appearance on TODAY With Hoda & Jenna, Barrio said she wanted to do the upcoming film because she really believed in director Blitz Bazawule’s vision for the movie, which features songs from the Broadway play.

“In the movie, Blitz, our amazing director, he gives Celie an imagination,” Barrino said. “She didn’t have that on Broadway, so you don’t get to see how she processes through. It’s just being told (she’s) ugly, she’s getting beat on, she’s taking care of all these kids. And then here’s, ‘I’m Here,’ and the audience is excited because you want to see her win, but how did she get there? And that’s why I was very proud that he was showing that.”

Read on to see all the incredible ways "The Color Purple" has evolved over the years.

Alice Walker writes "The Color Purple" based on her own family's struggles

The Color Purple
A picture of the cover of "The Color Purple" book by Alice Walker.Amazon

In 1982, Alice Walker released her bestselling book, "The Color Purple," which won her a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1983.

The story features messages of female empowerment as it tells the story of Celie, an impoverished young Black woman who suffers years of abuse at the hands of her husband, Mister, after she already welcomed two kids from her abusive father, Alphonso.

Though Celie's story may seem grim, she finds a lot of hope and happiness in her sister, Nettie. However, their time together is cut short once Mister tears them away from each other, forcing Nettie to leave their home and never return until many years later when Mister tries to do right by Celie.

In an interview with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Walker said she was inspired to make "The Color Purple" based on events that happened in her own family's life.

"A lot of the things in 'The Color Purple' happened to people in my family long before I was born. My grandmother was murdered by a man who wanted to be her lover. It really influenced my imagination because I really missed her," she said.

However, Walker notes that the story is not autobiographical in any way. It's just based on some stories she heard growing up in her family.

"Part of the creation of 'The Color Purple' is just out of a longing, to be more intimate with my ancestors at a time when I didn't exist," she added.

Walker's book resonated with many fans, and has sold more than five million copies to date. "The Color Purple" gets turned into an Oscar-nominated film

Whoopi Goldberg In 'The Color Purple'
Whoopi Goldberg looks up as she read a Bible in a scene from the 1985 film "The Color Purple."Getty Images

In 1985, fans rushed to theaters to watch the Steven Spielberg-directed film adaptation of the book on the big screen.

In a 1985 archived interview with Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul explained how similar the movie was to the book.

Winfrey said that Walker was with the cast "practically every day" on set giving them direction, and in another archived interview, Spielberg said he wanted the movie to be "very authentic" so it could feel like the book was being brought to life.

"Everything is the real thing," he said of making the set. "The one thing I wanted to do with this movie was to shoot the real thing. I didn't want this movie to be in any way manufactured, duplicated or copied or synthesized in a laboratory. I wanted everything to be very authentic from the furniture — to the style of the times and the costumes and the performances."

The movie was well-received by fans. After the film hit theaters, it received 11 Oscar nominations.

"The Color Purple" takes over Broadway before it's revived in 2015

Fantasia and the Cast of "The Color Purple"
Fantasia Barrino, Alton Fitzgerald White perform on stage at the Broadway Theater in New York for the musical revival of "The Color Purple."Bruce Glikas / FilmMagic

In 2005, "The Color Purple" opened on Broadway with LaChanze playing the role of Celie.

Her performance as the titular character helped LaChanze win a Tony Award. Then, in 2007, Fantasia Barrino succeeded LaChanze in the role of Celie when she joined the musical production.

At a virtual press conference for "The Color Purple," Barrino said she was "very young" when she got on Broadway, but she knew she wanted to play Celie after winning "American Idol" in 2004 because "'The Color Purple' was the first Broadway show I've ever seen."

The musical was such a success that it was later revived in a highly acclaimed 2015 staging that won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Cynthia Erivo, who played Celie in that production, also won a Tony for Best Actress.

"The Color Purple" returns to theaters

The Color Purple
Fantasia Barrino as Celie and Danielle Brooks as Sophia in "The Color Purple."Warner Bros.

In 2023, it became a full circle moment when Warner Bros. Pictures released the first official trailer for "The Color Purple" in May.

Unlike the first film, which pulled solely from Walker's novel, the new film is based on the Broadway musical adaptation. Barrino and Danielle Brooks, who plays Sofia, both reprise roles they played in the Broadway version. The feature also stars Colman Domingo (Mister), Taraji P. Henson (Shug Avery), Corey Hawkins (Harpo), H.E.R. (Squeak), and Louis Gossett Jr. (Ol’ Mister Johnson).

Directed by Beyonce’s “Black Is King” director, Blitz Bazawule, the film also includes songs from the Broadway play. When asked how he made this film his own, Bazawule said he turned to Walker's book, which he called "the holy grail" for direction.

"When I got it, it was really about asking myself what can you possibly add? Where can you possibly go? It's already done and it's done brilliantly. And it wasn't until, you know taking some time and going back to the book, which I hadn't read in a while, and just opening that first page, first line, 'Dear God, I'm 14 years old,' and you go, 'Oh, wow. That's where it all lives. It lives in the headspace of this young girl who is trying to find her way out of this torment and this torture,'" he said at a virtual press conference for "The Color Purple."

"And that brings us to this place of brilliant imagination, and how she's able to imagine her way out of it and then act her way out of it," he continued, "which is one thing I think we can all relate to."

Winfrey agrees. In a February 2022 interview with Vanity Fair, she said this version of the film "ain't your mama's 'Color Purple'" because this time we get to see Celie's childlike imagination run wild.

“Incorporating magical realism in this version of the story gives the audience a chance to go inside of Celie’s imagination,” Winfrey's co-producer Scott Sanders told the publication.

“In the early stages of Celie’s story, she is meek and small and in many ways passive. So we don’t really understand what’s going on inside that head of hers," he said. "We know there’s a lot going on, but we don’t know necessarily what it is.”

Now, audiences will get to experience Celie's story like never before.

"The Color Purple" is set hit theaters on Christmas Day.