If Steven Spielberg were to pick up The Color Purple as his next project in 2019, it would raise more than a few eyebrows. Alice Walker’s 1992 novel dove deep into the experiences of sexually and emotionally abused black women living in the Jim Crow South.
One might argue that Spielberg, a white Jewish man born in Cincinnati, would not be the the ideal choice to bring Walker’s tale to the screen. In fact, Spielberg faced that criticism (and protests) upon the movie’s 1995 premiere.
To Whoopi Goldberg, whose performance as Celie earned her an Oscar nomination, the furor of the ’80s represented much ado about nothing. Looking back on the controversy recently, she said she had no reservations at all about Spielberg directing the picture.
Overall, Whoopi seems to see the Color Purple adaptation as simply another Hollywood transaction. And, naturally, she framed it with her trademark blunt humor.
Whoopi said Spielberg made a film no one else really wanted to make.
Before The Color Purple hit screens in late ’85, a special screening in Los Angeles drew protests from the Coalition Against Black Exploitation. One member of the group said it portrayed blacks “in an extremely negative light” and asked why Spielberg hadn’t consulted with black sociologists while making the film.
The president of the local NAACP chapter agreed that the film was “very stereotypical” and “very degrading for the black male.” (Maxine Waters, then a California Assemblywoman, disagreed with these assessments, calling it “beautiful” and “powerful.”.)
When Whoopi looked back on that hubbub in a recent New York Times Magazine interview, she didn’t buy into the skepticism. For starters, she said no one was clamoring to make the movie in the first place.
“Everything I understood about The Color Purple was that whoever was out there at the time could have done it, but they didn’t,” Whoopi said. “If all these other people who are bitching about it could have made it, why didn’t they?”
Whoopi seemed to see Spielberg’s involvement simply on the level of a filmmaker making films. “[Y]ou can’t be mad at Spielberg that he did do it. I’m just glad somebody made it.”
Whoopi also broke down ‘The Color Purple’ in transactional Hollywood terms.
David Marchese of the Times Magazine had an interesting follow-up to his Color Purple questions. He asked what Whoopi thought about the likelihood someone of color would direct the film were it adapted today. Whoopi said she saw it in classic transactional Hollywood terms.
“Let’s be real here. Big studios want a return,” she said. “If a kangaroo decided it wanted to make the studio money, and the studio knew the kangaroo was going to make them money, the studio would give a job to the kangaroo.”
Whoopi has been in the business for close to 35 years now, so we’ll take her word for it. (The Color Purple represented her big break in Hollywood.) After all this time, it doesn’t sound like she’d do anything differently.
Come to think of it, she doesn’t regret the jokes she wrote for Ted Danson in blackface or the jokes about George W. Bush that got her in trouble, either. Maybe regret just isn’t Whoopi’s thing.