Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind the Making of “The Color Purple”

May 14, 2012  |  
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When our favorite books are turned into movies it can either be really great or terribly awful. Though the film adaptation of The Color Purple was a bit different from the book, as expected, the movie was still a masterpiece. The film was well cast with big names who were trying new things and people who had yet to step onto our radar. But it all came together to create an iconic film. So timeless that we bet you still can’t help but to watch it when it comes on tv. Though the story is full of pain, many of us have been able to find humor in some of the film’s darkest moments. Like, What’s Love Got to Do With It, lines from The Color Purple have become a part of the culture. (I’m sure many of you will quote the more popular ones in the comments section.) You know the plot, you know the lines but did you know these behind the scenes secrets? Read on to find out.

Who is going to play Shug Avery?

You would not believe the number of names that came up when it came to this role. Initially, it seemed like the directors were going for a professional singer. Phyllis Hymen was the first choice for the role. While some sources say she declined it, others say she lost it. (The story was included in her biography.) Patti Labelle auditioned for the role but didn’t make the cut. Sheryl Lee Ralph also tested for the role. After Phyllis Hymen was out of the running Spielberg himself tried to get Chaka Khan but she later admitted that she was too scared to take on the role. She wasn’t the only one who wasn’t interested. Diana Ross, Lola Falana and Tina Turner all turned down the role of Shug Avery. Who knows how these divas would have come across on screen but we’re glad that the role eventually went to Margaret Avery. She nailed it.

Somebody got robbed

The film was very well received in theaters and critics agree it was a classic. Roger Ebert called it the best film of 1985 and predicted that Whoopi would win an Academy Award for her performance. Well Whoopi was certainly nominated. In fact, the film received 11 Academy Award nominations including best picture, best actress, best supporting actress, best writing  and best music. Despite all the acknowledgment, the film didn’t receive a single award from the Academy. Not one. If you ask me, that sounds a little sketchy. The Color Purple along with 1977’s The Turning Point hold the record for the most Oscar nominations without a win.

Not enough Lesbian Love

If you’ve read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, then you know that Celie and Shug Avery share more than a platonic friendship. Yet, their lesbian love affair wasn’t depicted in the movie, with the exception of a little kiss. Spielberg has said that he decided to omit that portion of the book because he didn’t feel audiences were ready for it. But Spielberg has also said he regrets that decision.

Keep it on the Hush

When word got out that the novel, “The Color Purple” was going to be turned into a feature film, naturally people wanted to be involved. The response was so grand that instead of listing the audition under the actual film name, they had to change it to “Moon Song.” Obviously, if you wanted a part in this film, your people had to know people.

What did Alice Walker think?

It can be really hard to watch someone try to reinterpret your work for a different medium. Walker was there on set during filming so I’m sure she was consulted. But when the film was finished and she saw an advanced screening she did not like it. At all. She used the word “horrified.” She didn’t even like the opening scene because she said it looked more like Oklahoma than rural Georgia. But her opinion shifted a bit when she saw it again with an audience who loved it. Walker finally conceded that the film was good, just very different from her original novel.

Whoopi’s Extraterrestrial audition

Whoopi has never been one to take the traditional route. When she auditioned for the role of Celie she did so by portraying a stoned E.T. Yes, an alien. She did so to prove to Spielberg (and Quincy and Michael Jackson, who were also in the room) that she could play this and any role. God knows she was right.

Quincy Jones convinced Spielberg to direct the film

What doesn’t Quincy Jones have his hands in? Apparently, Jones and Spielberg are good friends and he tried to convince the filmmaker that he should take on The Color Purple. Spielberg didn’t exactly jump at the opportunity. He was very hesitant, telling Jones that he wasn’t familiar with the south and a black person should direct the film. Quincy told Spielberg that he wasn’t an alien but he directed E.T.  Well, Spielberg bought his argument and took the project on. The rest is history. Thanks Quincy!


Oprah becomes an actress

Remember that powerful scene where Sophia (Oprah) is thanking Celie (Whoopi) for all she’s done for her? Well that was complete improv. As moving as those lines were, they weren’t scripted. Considering that this was Oprah’s first movie that’s pretty impressive, to say the least. That scene right there is a tear jerker. Even Whoopi was moved. After the scene wrapped., Whoopi went and hugged Oprah and told her she was now an actress.

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  • eestoomuch

    does MN need an online editor? it’s Hyman, Phyllis Hyman!!!

  • I was also watching an interview with the women who played the younger Celie. She said  that when Danny Glover slapped her in a scene it was a real slap. She said she was completely startled because she thought he was going to hit her lightly or maybe she thought it would be a “stage” slap. She said he really slapped the mess out of

  • I love this movie everytime it comes on I watch it

  • RenJennM

    The clip made me cry! I can’t believe that scene was improved! That was beautiful. A very iconic scene. I pretty much grew up with this movie.

  • Nunya

    You all really need spell check. It’s Phyllis HYMAN, not “Hymen.” “Hymen” is the barrier between virginity and no longer having it.

  • Etteval413

    I watch this movied over and over again…always see or hear something different each time!

  • Kierah

    Why didn’t the film nab any Academy Awards? Once the NAACP started protesting it because of the “negative” portrayals of Black people, the Academy members were reluctant to support it.
    When we don’t support our own, we can’t really expect others to do so.

  • Mamarogo

    my favourite….I am black, I maybe ugly but am free! Miss Celie

  • Pingback: Black Christians are Having Sex, Church Must Deal With It … « Sexual Health for Men And Women()

  • FFS_Already1

    “You ain’t none of my mammy!”

    To this day I will never date, let alone consider marrying, a man with children because of little Harpo!

    • Chanda

      Made my life hell..

  • Gimmeabreak78

    Both the movie and the book were amazing!  Whoopi Goldberg is one of the most underrated actresses of our generation!

  • Who wrote this? It’s Phyllis Hyman. Not hymen. SMH

    • Kierah

      Thanks! That was irking me too.


      I had a putthy joke on the tip of my tongue but I fought hard not to go there.

    • aDawn217

       chile, that’s what I was scrolling down to comment on too!

  • RealTruth

    One of best group of actors Ever!They all deserved an academy! Still cant watch young Celie without crying.EXCELLENT!

  • RealTruth

    One of best group of actors Ever!They all deserved an academy! Still cant watch young Celie without crying.EXCELLENT!

  • Dear MadameNoire,

    I love your site. I just wish the automatic playing ads would stop. Please? Pretty please? What makes it worse is that i have to click thorough several pages if the article contains lists and the freakin’ ads that automatically play can not be paused or muted ( i have to mute my computer). I  know you have to have advertisments (get money!) but please make them stop playing automatically. 

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    A MN fan, 

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  • Ebonydiva82

    “I’ll kill’im dead befo’ I let him beat me!”

  • Chanda

    The scenes in the beginning of the film were brutal! Then married Celie off to Mister talking about “but she ain’t fresh” I guess not having to live with him. Plus we had Sophia who had to “fight” all her life with her father, uncles and brothers, etc. Oprah was speaking from experience. And Sophia not seeing her family in 8 years? Oh, they went HARD on sistas in the early 1900s in the south but of course there were funny parts to balance it out in this unforgetable film. That’s what made it so great.

  • I think Sheryl Lee Ralph would’ve made a good Shug Avery… 
    Actually, I would’ve wished she gotten the role over the original.  The
    original was good, but she wasn’t all that great.  Each their own.

  • I think Sheryl Lee Ralph would’ve made a good Shug Avery…  Actually, I would’ve wished she gotten the role over the original.  The original was good, but she wasn’t all that great.  Each their own.

  • Guesrobin

    I love these “Behind The Scene Articles”.They are truly starting to become my favorites.Keep up the good work MN!

  • Smdh

    God bless this Site, one of my favorite films and I didn’t know many of these secrets

  • Mrsadkiah

    The movie was waaaay more than a bit different than the book. I’ve seen the movie and the play and I’ve read the book a trillion times. This was one adaptation of a book that didn’t make me too made, probably because I saw it long before reading the book. I love the book more though


    I’ve followed Alice Walker’s career for decades.  Even read her book revisiting her experience on the ‘Purple’ set.  She never said she hated the movie.  Her only issues were that Sophia aged too dramatically during her imprisonment.  And the scene where Shug appears clueless as to Celie’s unspoken yearning to have Shug and her husband invite her into the car- Walker contends that this was all wrong.  Shug and Celie had bonded on a deep level by that time, and the former would have recognized the latter’s desperate need to escape.


    OK now, let me see, a BLACK movie showing a BLACK man who rapes his step-daughter, gets her pregnant with two children, have them taken away, then take the less attractive BLACK sister and push her off on another hateful abusive BLACK man who didn’t want her anyway, but he is madly in love with another BLACK woman who has multiple children with multiple fathers. All produced by a WHITE JEW & put on the big screen & funded by Hollywierd. Didn’t like Alice Walker’s book and hated this movie even more.  It’s funny how Hollywierd is eager to fund movies like this one & Precious but Spike had to literally scrape the bottom of the barrel to get funding for Malcolm X.  SMH

    • Pinq80

      I get your point and agree totally about the more historically needed films being pushed aside, but this movie is a classic. I really enjoyed as a kid growing up poor. Allowed me to know my struggle was no where near that of the Southern blacks of that time

    • Miss Anonymous

      Worser things are known to be real life. Ask a family member and sometimes worse thing than what you mentioned could have happend in your own family.

    • superwoman

      Have a seat!… make no sense. Please stop trying to turn this into a race issue. Re-read the captions because you obviously missed the part where Steven Spielberg conceded that he felt a black person would have been better suited to direct the movie UNTIL Quincy Jones convinced him otherwise…….I think he did a great job.

  • Ms_Mara

    The Academy knows they were wrong for that! Easily a top contender for best picture and Whoopi should have won for best actress. I still love this movie and quote certain scenes at any given moment. lol

  • Mls2698

    One of the best movies ever, but I could swear some family acquaintances stole that dvd from my house; they haven’t been to my house in over three years, and Ms Celie has been missing for about that long………….

  • Just saying!!

    lmao “I’m not an alien but I directed E.T.” hahaha go Quincy!! Glad everything worked out because The Color Purple is a classic!!

  • NP

    Just watched the clip and I seriously need a tissue…..Whew LAWD JESUS!!!!!

  • Tuchie357

    Love love love this movie it shows the true struggles bw went threw with bm its funny how bm still cant see were the mad bw attitude started from it came from dealing with mad bm!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Chanda

      Yeah black women put up with a lot of sh!t back in the those days but at least Celie finally stood up for herself towards the end. And Mister changed his ways and reunited Celie and Nettie since he was the one that drove them apart.