Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Color Purple


You gotta wonder if this could have been made today. By that I mean directed by a white man, Steven Spielberg, and scripted by a white man, Menno Meyjes. Wouldn’t someone cry cultural appropriation? Shouldn’t all films about black people be written and directed by black people, or at least by “people of color?” I ask this sincerely, not sarcastically. I can see some of a point to that idea, but I can also see some real problems, some real pitfalls. These days there seems to be a narrowing of possibilities in many ways, and race is at the center of a lot of them.

Take casting. Clearly a black person is required in a story where the race of a character is central to the story. You wouldn’t cast Tom Cruise as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, or Jackie Robinson in 42. But where a race is not specified, or not important, casting should be flexible. Black or white; who cares? But then we get into another idea, that gay characters should be played only by gay actors. There was a recent flap over the casting of what is now called a “cisgender” actress as a trans character. I can’t recall the details. Anyone help me out? How about that?

I’m not advocating one way or the other here, just wondering. Obviously we don’t want to go back to the bad old days of The Good Earth, with Paul Muni and Luise Rainer as Chinese peasants. But what about Mexican-American Manuel Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca, better known as Anthony Quinn, as Zorba the Greek?

Okay, enough of that. The film is a journey through horror to a heartwarming ending, and has many of the Spielberg strengths as well as his flaws. There is too much swooping music and people running through his typical tracking shots, which I find distracting. But the core of the Alice Walker story is strong. It stars Danny Glover against type as a horrid brute of a man. I like him better as a nice guy, but he handles this well. Then of course there are Oprah and Whoopi, two who don’t need last names. A telling stat: It was nominated for eleven Oscars … and won zero. Spielberg was snubbed, no nomination for Best Director, which is ridiculous. I guess those eleven nominations just happened all by themselves.