Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

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

Watering Shug down for Celuloid

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While it is impressive that film adaptation of The Color Purple is as faithful as it is, some changes were made to the story that have some pretty worrying implications. The most glaring of which is the subplot that was added of Shug trying to appease the local preacher with the reveal at the end of the film that he was her father. On it’s face this doesn’t seem to change much about Shug’s character and provides a moment of reconciliation that is easier to show on film than Shug going to live with her estranged son, but when you look deeper at it, it really changes a lot about Shug’s character.

Throughout the novel, Shug does what she wants, she goes where she wants, and she is clearly  bisexual and polyamorous, choosing to sleep with both Celie and Mr. even after her marriage. But, in the film she shows off her ring to her preacher father exclaiming, “I’m a married woman!”, essentially she’s saying that she’s become respectable and to a viewer of the film who hasn’t read the book, she has become a respectable, a heteronormative respectable woman who doesn’t challenge any ideas held by mainstream America. It’s implied in the film that Celie and Shug have at least one sexual encounter, but this is never revisited after that single scene and there is no evidence in the film that Shug continues to have a sexual relationship with Mr. Furthermore, in the film Shug never expresses the unhappiness with her marriage that she expresses in the novel. By all appearances in the film, Shug has excised all the ideas she had that were antithetical to her father (and I don’t think this is a big jump to make) mainstream Christianity. On top of watering down Shug’s sexuality we only get a very truncated version of her Deism speech to Celie. While a lot of the film adaptation of The Color Purple was very faithful, I find it hard to believe that Alice Walker, who dedicated The Color Purple “To the Spirit” and refers to God as “That Which is Beyond Understanding But Not Beyond Loving” and  the “Great Mystery” sat idly by on set while the most radical ideas were stripped from her story. Maybe she just didn’t show up the day these scenes were filmed?

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Author: gunnertaylorgt

My name is Gunner Taylor. I'm currently studying English at Southwestern University. I created this blog to make weekly reading response posts for a Black Women Writers course, but I'll probably post other assignments and maybe even some personal stuff if I ever get around to writing any.

One thought on “Watering Shug down for Celuloid

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post. I felt very much like you did with the portrayal of Shug. I like that you mention the scene where she so adamantly wants to show her father that she’s married. When she first goes to visit him at the church I kept asking myself, “why is she trying so hard?” Then when she wants to show off her ring, I couldn’t understand why she was so desperate because I read her charterer has someone who does what she wants simply because she gets pleasure from it. After all, she has sexual relations with both Mr. _____ and Celie; she’s hardly “conventional”. As such, I thought that maybe the movie wouldn’t have been accessible to the general public who is probably predominantly Christian or at least who condones only monogamy and heterosexual relationships if Shug was depicted has overtly deviant (as some would say). It would be interesting to see what, if anything, Alice Walker had to say about Shug’s charterer. However, she wouldn’t have had any power over final decisions.

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