Based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple is a richly-textured, powerful film set in America's rural south. Whoopi Goldberg, winner of the Best Actress Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination, makes a triumphant screen debut as the radiant, indomitable Celie, the story's central character. Her impressive portrayal is complimented by a distinguished cast that includes Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, Adolph Caesar, Rae Dawn Chong and Akosua Busia. The Color Purple marks a new, more mature color in Spielberg's artistic palette. It is an exquisitely crafted, landmark film that will be treasured and talked about for years to come.
Steven Spielberg, proving he's one of the few modern filmmakers who has the visual fluency to be capable of making a great silent film, took a melodramatic, D.W. Griffith-inspired approach to filming Alice Walker's novel. His tactics made the film controversial, but also a popular hit. You can argue with the appropriateness of Spielberg's decision, but his astonishing facility with images is undeniable--from the exhilarating and eye-popping opening shots of children playing in paradisiacal purple fields to the way he conveys the brutality of a rape by showing hanging leather belts banging against the head of the shaking bed. In a way it's a shame that Whoopi Goldberg, a stage monologist who made her screen debut in this movie, went on to become so famous, because it was, in part, her unfamiliarity that made her understated performance as Celie so effective. (This may be the first and last time that the adjective understated can be applied to Goldberg.) Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including best picture and actress (supporting players Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery were also nominated), it was quite a scandal--and a crushing blow to Spielberg--when it won none. --Jim Emerson