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?