WHOOPI GOLDBERG as Celie in THE COLOR PURPLE
Like Shirley MacLaine’s role in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT. Almost 25 years after I first experienced this film I have different feelings about the picture as a whole today and I wish I didn’t. I wish I wasn’t such a cold-hearted snob. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is my affection for Whoopi Goldberg’s amazing screen debut. Discovered by Mike Nichols, who directed and produced her one-woman-show on Broadway that brought attention to Hollywood and Steven Speilberg. This was a true blue talent with something brutally honest to say about the world and fresh perspective that Hollywood may not have been ready for at the time.
As a young gay man from a very conservation town I had tremendous connection to Celie, her world and her journey.
The film has some imperfections, some forced comedic attempts, some cartoonish compositions but the one thing that is never off is Whoopi’s heart and soul. All the actors seem to be committed to every moment. Floating in and out of scenes with all of their passion. I just wish the Steven had trusted these beginners a little more. Although the film was nomination for 11 Academy Awards, it won not one single Oscar. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach after the Awards ceremony that year.
Celie, played by Whoopi, is a woman cruelly treated by the world around her. She is shy, frightened, trying to dodge looks in the street or any kind of acknowledgement. The scene where she shops for half blind, brutalized Sofia, played by another newcomer Oparh Winfrey, made me burst every time I saw it. Her eventual flowering with Margeret Avery and her first big smile provides one of the most joyous experiences I had ever had watching a film.
My first time to New York. I entered Grand Central Station from JFK and my best buddy George was there waiting for me with a flowing purple fabric and shouted ,“Celieeee” This was how important this film was for me, the requirement I made for others. They knew if they wanted to reach me – they would have to do it with this kind of majesty. It was very funny. Love my Georgies.
This again was Whoopi Goldberg’s first film role, beyond incredible the entire journey she takes. She really gives us the entire life of Celie. It’s still by far her best work, because she was allowed to draw from her raw inner truth and then street perspective and not required to play a stereotypical black film caricature or comic relief. Her truth and soul is the center of the film – even though it’s flawed. THE COLOR PURPLE was criticized for Spielbergs postcard landscapes and forced comedic moments. Like Harpo falling through roof or the big moment towards the end at the big climax ‘Thanksgiving’ dinner where Shug tells Mister “Celie is coming with to Memphis with us”. Whoopi lets him have it and all her characters oppressed resentment comes out when she slams on the table, “Did I ever ask you of anything !!!…Not even your sorry ass hand in marriage” but unfortunately ends with a comic beat from Shug's boyfriend, “Nice to meet you all” – it worked but it was cheap and it simply wasn’t needed.
Whoopi also gives us another fine example of playing old age and doing it right. Even though the make-up did support her being older, it was her body language, collapsed and beaten with a sliver of hope left. Like running in a dream, running toward her beloved sister at the end – was spot on perfection.
THE COLOR PURPLE was obviously made with tenderness and passion and it’s movie escapism: even though you are escaping to a cruel – harder world than your own.
When a movie character is really working, we become that character. That's what the movies offer: Escapism into lives other than our own. I am not female, I am not black, I am not Celie, but for a time during THE COLOR PURPLE my mind deceives me that I am all of those things, and as I empathize with her struggle and victory I learn something about what it must have been like to be her. Celie is a great powerful movie character, played with astonishing grace and tenderness from Ms. Goldberg, and to feel her story is to be blessed with her humanity. Haven't we all felt ugly? Been afraid to smile? Been beaten down ? Haven't we all lost precious things in our lives? Dared to dream of a better life? Celie endures and prevails, and so hope lives. If it touches you deeply enough, it's not just only a movie. It's a lasting experience. Way to go Whoopi. Got the OSCAR for GHOST, but the academy does that all the time. It was an OSCAR IOU - for sure. Great work.