- The films of The Color Purple don’t fully capture the depth and development of Shug and Celie’s relationship.
- The book and stage musical explore their relationship more fully, including their romantic partnership.
- The lack of representation in the films is disappointing, especially given the progress made in LGBTQ+ rights since the original film was released.
The Color Purple follows Celie’s journey from a young girl to an abused housewife to a liberated, wise woman with the help of Shug Avery, who shows her what love truly is. This relationship is played out again on-screen in the musical movie adaptation of The Color Purple based on the 2005 Broadway production and 1982 book by Alice Walker. However, unlike its source material, The Color Purple is closer to the 1985 movie when it comes to the portrayal of Shug and Celie’s relationship. Shug Avery is one of the most important characters in The Color Purple, but the films don’t do her and Celie justice.
Shug is played by Taraji P. Henson in The Color Purple musical, who has received great praise for her performance along with Fantasia Barrino (Celie) and Danielle Brooks (Sofia). Shug is introduced as a famous traveling singer and “loose woman” who causes excitement whenever she’s in town to perform. One of her many lovers is Mister, Celie’s abusive husband, who is head over heels for Shug, only for her to be more interested in his wife. Shug changes Celie’s life for the better by the end of The Color Purple, as shown in every version, but the films aren’t as overt when it comes to just how she does that.
Shug & Celie’s Relationship Is Underdeveloped In The Color Purple Movies
It’s explored more in the book and stage musical
The Color Purple was published in 1982 by bisexual author Alice Walker and was an instant success. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year, and it didn’t take long for Steven Spielberg to adapt it into a hit film. Yet, Walker was hesitant to give up the rights for a film adaptation because of the long history of Hollywood’s lackluster portrayal of African American women. While Celie was clearly the hero of her own story in The Color Purple, the movie was missing the intersectionality of her race, gender, and sexuality that was more present in the book through her relationship with Shug.
Though they kiss in both of The Color Purple films, their relationship seems more one-sided. Celie had a crush on Shug, who appeared more than happy to help Celie discover that part of herself. Outside this kiss, their relationship, while loving, seems to be strictly platonic, unlike in the book where they eventually become romantic partners. They remain lovers throughout The Color Purple book, and Celie ends their relationship when Shug isn’t capable of being with just her. It’s a powerful moment where Celie asserts herself and her worth that leads to “I’m Here” in the stage version of The Color Purple, but it was missing in the films.
Why The Color Purple Changed Shug & Celie’s Relationship
With aspects of Shug and Celie’s relationship appearing in The Color Purple films, it begs the question of why other parts from the book were cut. The Color Purple was pretty revolutionary for its time in its depiction of American American women, especially queer African American women. When Steven Spielberg made The Color Purple into a film in 1985, the choice to downplay Shug and Celie’s relationship could have been because of societal attitudes toward LGBTQ people at the time. Just having them kiss was seen as pushing boundaries.
However, almost 40 years later, there has been a lot of progress made in LGBTQ rights, which many thought would be reflected in The Color Purple (2023). The musical that appeared on Broadway in 2005 and 2015 did a better job of highlighting Shug and Celie’s relationship, giving them multiple songs and duets that made their feelings for each other clear. Unfortunately, many of them were cut when The Color Purple was made into a movie musical. With a nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime, the cuts were likely done to shorten the story, but they took away important aspects of the musical that had been improvements from the 1985 film.
Why The Portrayal Of Shug & Celie’s Relationship On-Screen Is Disappointing
It’s been over 40 years since Alice Walker’s book was published, but The Color Purple movie musical’s lack of representation feels like a step back rather than forward. After the stage show fixed what was missing in the 1985 film, the 2023 musical reverted to the same watered-down story. When the film adaptation of the musical was announced, many had hoped it was a chance for filmmakers to finally get Shug and Celie’s relationship right but were left disappointed.
There has been great progress made in LGBTQ representation since Spielberg’s 1985 film, but when comparing The Color Purple to its revolutionary book, viewers might not be able to tell. In recent years, there has been a conscious effort by studios to include more representation in media, and with the intersectionality of Celie and Shug’s characters, this should have extended to The Color Purple as well. Though the film versions of The Color Purple may be lacking when it comes to Celie and Shug’s relationship, the source material can still be revisited.
- Release Date:
- Blitz Bazawule
- Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, Halle Bailey, H.E.R., Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Fantasia Barrino
- Drama, Musical
- Story By:
- Alice Walker, Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray, Marsha Norman
- Harpo Films, Amblin Entertainment, Scott Sanders Productions, Quincy Jones Productions
- Warner Bros. Pictures
- Marcus Gardley
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