‘The Color Purple’ Director Blitz Bazawule & Fantasia Barrino On Helping The Traumatized Celie Find Her Voice: “Anyone Who Writes To God Has An Imagination” – Contenders Film L.A.

‘The Color Purple’ Director Blitz Bazawule & Fantasia Barrino On Helping The Traumatized Celie Find Her Voice: “Anyone Who Writes To God Has An Imagination” – Contenders Film L.A.

As far as movies with history go, The Color Purple — about Celie, an abused teenage Black girl in the early 20th century — is as storied as they come. Based on Alice Walker’s seminal Pulitzer-winning 1982 book, it has been a 1985 Steven Spielberg pic, a Broadway musical in the mid-2000s and a Tony-winning revival play.

So when Blitz Bazawule got the call asking him to direct a film musical for 2023, his first question was: “Why?”

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“It has been done and done and done, so what can you possibly do with this?” he said at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Los Angeles event Saturday at the DGA Theater. “It’s sacred work and hallowed ground. The Color Purple is a critical and important text for so many people who are healing, so if you have nothing to say, you better shut up.”

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Bazawule, a Golden Globe nominee for his micro-budget 2018 hit The Burial of Kojo, went back to Walker’s book for inspiration. As he read Celie’s first line, which begins, “Dear God,” he realized how the musical adaptation could say something new.

“Anyone who is writing letters to God has an imagination, period,” he said. “It also made it clear to me we often miscategorize people who have been through abuse and trauma as deeply docile and waiting to be saved. The reality is nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone who has been through trauma and abuse is constantly trying to work their way out of it in their head. We just don’t access to their headspace.”

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Drawing hope, inspiration and context from Celie’s mind would be the jumping-off point that would set the new film apart from everything that came before.

That also provided the creative spark for Fantasia Barrino, who had played Celie on Broadway in 2007-08 — a time when she was working through personal issues of her own.

Producer Scott Sanders had called to ask her to take the role, but she was reticient after the experience during the stage role. It was only when Bazawule told her about his vision that she got the picture. “He was giving Celie an imagination and I said, ‘I’m in.’ We all get through things in our own way.”

Barrino stars alongside the likes of Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Corey Hawkins and Colman Domingo. Henson and Brooks appeared alongside Barrino and Bazawule at our event Saturday.

Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, who was Oscar-nominated in the 1985 film as she appeared alongside the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover, are producing the film with Sanders and Quincy Jones. Warner Bros., a producer on that film, is returning to release the pic on Christmas Day.

Check out the panel video above.

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