Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

Embracing the Adaptation


I like film adaptations when they add another layer to my appreciation of a novel, and The Color Purple is definitely working for me in this way. The film gives us so many scenes of love between Celie and Nettie that the letters from Nettie alone can’t illustrate. There is something wonderful about seeing them running or holding hands or smiling that just screams sisterly love. We get to see them doing girlish things like making fun of the men who want them (I can’t get over how much I love that – “oooh Nettie what white teeth you have!”).

As noted in some previous posts, the humor might be over-the-top. But I can forgive it because the violence is not sugarcoated at all. Watching Mr ____  forcibly haul Nettie down the stairs with Celie dragging behind on her stomach was one of the most gut-wrenching viewing experiences I’ve had in a while. I think it’s important to look at why the film version would linger on this moment, and change it so drastically from the book when everything else seems to follow closely. I think we need to see this domestic violence. We need to really occupy the moment and feel the horror of the abuse.

But we don’t need to remain there. The Color Purple has its strength in how it combats oppression through humor, yes, but also just in living life. The film makes the point that no man can just be the bad guy. Mr _____ loves Shug Avery. He can be a total fool in love and the destruction of Celie’s relationship with Nettie at the same moment. And that complication of character is powerful. So far the movie is only enriching my love for the story. I dig it.


Author: semccauley1

I am a writer and editor based in Austin, Texas.

2 thoughts on “Embracing the Adaptation

  1. It’s interesting that the film adaptation would linger on that moment when it completely shies away from some of the other abuse in the novel. As a class of people it’s easy to catch the lines that tell the audience that Celie was abused by her step-father and that he is the father of his children, but if you hadn’t read the novel it would be easy to miss the one line where Celie indicates the children belong to her step-father or Nettie’s single line about him trying to abuse her as well. This aspect of the story is glossed over, but we get extended scenes of Mr. abusing the two girls. For me it just seems that the film moves very fast and glosses over some things (every scene at Harpo’s was condensed into one), but they are being rather faithful. I wonder if there will be more discussion of Celie’s abuse at the hands of Mr. later in the film? And if not, why not?

  2. Correction: As a class of people who have read the novel it’s easy to catch the lines…

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