Steven Spielberg Got Cussed Out By This Legendary Singer Behind the Scenes of ‘The Color Purple’

Decades after its release, The Color Purple continues to be a generational touchstone. The Steven Spielberg-directed movie starring a young Whoopi Goldberg captured the hearts of audiences everywhere in 1985, and earned Goldberg her first Academy Award nomination.

Whoopi Goldberg has conversation with Steven Spielberg off-camera from the film 'The Color Purple', 1985 | Warner Brothers/Getty Images
Whoopi Goldberg has conversation with Steven Spielberg off-camera from the film ‘The Color Purple’, 1985 | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

‘The Color Purple’ was an iconic movie

The Color Purple is based on the novel of the same name by Alice Walker. The story explores several heavy topics as they related to Black women in the early 20th century, including domestic violence, pedophilia, and poverty.

Goldberg recounted her experience with the story in an interview with supermodel Naomi Campbell on her web show No Filter with Naomi. “My daughter and I had been driving somewhere in Berkeley, and we heard Alice Walker reading The Color Purple on NPR, and my daughter and I pulled the car over to listen because it was so extraordinary hearing her,” she recalled. 

Goldberg wrote Walker a letter, and Walker sent her a letter back saying she already knew who she was and had seen her comedy shows in San Francisco. Goldberg was starstruck, and Walker told her that she’d let her know if The Color Purple film adaptation gets a green light so she can audition. “I had said to her, ‘I’ll play the dirt on the floor,’” she recounted, acknowledging that she had only ever acted onstage before.

Steven Spielberg at the 92nd Academy Awards | Craig Sjodin via Getty Images
Steven Spielberg at the 92nd Academy Awards | Craig Sjodin via Getty Images

Shug Avery was almost played by a legendary singer

In the movie, Goldberg played Celie, the main character who faces years of spousal abuse and struggle throughout the film. Along the way, Celie becomes friends with Shug Avery, the mistress of her abusive husband Mister.

Shug is played by actor Margaret Avery in the movie, but it almost didn’t happen that way. According to IMDb, soul singer Phyllis Hyman was originally cast to play Shug. But something happened during the audition process that led to her being replaced.

Portrait of American singer and actress Phyllis  Hyman (1949 - 1995), 1980s | Anthony Barboza/Getty Images
Portrait of American singer and actress Phyllis Hyman (1949 – 1995), 1980s | Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

RELATED: Steven Spielberg Hired Whoopi Goldberg For ‘The Color Purple’ On the Spot After Seeing Her ‘E.T.’ Parody

Phyllis Hyman let Steven Spielberg know her thoughts

According to Vibe magazine, Hyman lost the role of Shug because she turned off everyone she came into contact with, from Spielberg to the film’s stars, including Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.

Hyman’s former co-manager Sydney Harris recounted the day in the biography Strength of a Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story. Glover emerged from their table read and told her, “Your girl acted out. She was trying to run the audition. She was ordering Steven around.”

“That was Phyllis’s M.O.,” Harris explained. “When she got scared, she tried to take over things so she could regain control. She lost the part because they could not wrap their heads around being with Phyllis for five months in North Carolina while they shot the film.”

After Hyman exited the film, several other high-profile singers were considered for the role, including Tina Turner, Diana Ross, and Patti LaBelle.