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Fantasia Barrino-Taylor on ‘The Color Purple’ and a Painful Role



In the film, Celie’s self-awareness and confidence builds steadily in the presence of Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), the free-spirited, local celebrity and, later, Celie’s lover and friend. While still suffering at home, Celie comes into her own much sooner than in the original film. She’s comfortable wearing sequins and lipstick, and her bond with Shug is more pronounced.

Bazawule’s intention was to oscillate between joy and pain, a very human approach, he said. “We never wallow in just pain. Certainly, a people who have birthed such beautiful manifestations to this world, there’s no way that Black people just deal with pain. It’s impossible,” he said. “When you hear gospel, when you hear jazz, when you hear all these things, that’s turning pain into power.”

He explained that the pain-joy approach “gave us a much fuller picture of her struggles. It was also the back and forth between her reality and her fantasies, and that is also a very important place, a refuge, in a way, for someone like her who was dealing with an external abuser. She could create a world in which she was more powerful than her abuser.”

Celie experiences bliss in part through dance. However, Barrino-Taylor, known for gospel and R&B ballads, wasn’t used to up-tempo movement.

“When they first said I had to learn how to tap dance, I thought everybody was crazy,” she said, giggling. “I literally laughed, I cried, I laughed, I cried. I was terrified. I didn’t even think my feet were going to move.”

The process was challenging, but Barrino-Taylor stuck with it. After a full day of shooting on location in Georgia, she dragged herself into her garage, armed with a pair of tap shoes and got to work. “We wouldn’t get home until, like, 6, 7 o’clock in the morning. But I would go in there, put my tights on, and I would practice. Because I knew on the day when we filmed, I needed to allow Celie to take over, not be thinking 1-2-3-4, ba-ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba-ba,” she rhythmed.