Starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey, Willard Pugh, Adolph Caesar
Director: Steven Spielberg
Summary: A young African-American woman fights for her independence during the early years of the 20th century
Other Nominations: Actress (Goldberg), Supporting Actress (Avery), Supporting Actress (Winfrey), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song (“Miss Celie’s Blues”), Art Direction, Cinematography, Makeup, Costume Design
While the movie never completely clicked for me, it’s very well made and managed to keep my interest consistently over its fairly long run time. The performances are good across the board. I would single out Goldberg (in her first major film appearance) and Winfrey (in her first movie period) in particular especially considering they never reached these heights the rest of their careers in terms of dramatic acting. Both excel playing the whole spectrum of their characters as they progress over the course of the film, and Goldberg is remarkably understated compared to what she did the rest of her career. Everything looks and sounds great, and I’m surprised Spielberg wasn’t nominated considering pretty much everybody else on the project was, but at this point he really was seen as the big summer blockbuster guy and not a “serious” filmmaker.
With that said, some of the characters lack depth, including all male and/or white characters. This is a movie very much focused on black women, which is nice considering how rare that is in a big studio movie, but everybody outside of the three main female roles is pretty flat (whether that’s an issue from the source material or from the significantly altered script adaption I’m not sure). Having Spielberg direct the movie is certainly a curious choice considering he was a white man almost solely known for action/adventure movies at the time, and I think a different director might have taken it in a different and potentially better direction than the movie we got. With that said, a period piece about black women in the South would have been a very hard sell for a major studio coming from anyone who didn’t have the kind of cache as Spielberg-ultimately, an imperfect but good movie is better than no movie at all.