The Color Purple Reunion
Through the eyes of Celie, the story's central character, moviegoers witness the horrors these women face, including domestic abuse, incest and racism.
Despite its controversial themes, The Color Purple became a box office success after its release in 1985. It went on to earn 11 Oscar® nominations.
At the time, the movie's cast was virtually unknown. Oprah made her big-screen debut as Sofia shortly after landing her own talk show, and Whoopi Goldberg, the woman who landed the role of Celie, was performing comedy and one-woman shows when she was discovered. Danny Glover was cast to play Celie's husband, Mister, after acting in just a few movies. These actors and their co-stars—Margaret Avery as Shug Avery, Rae Dawn Chong as Squeak, Akosua Busia as Nettie, Desreta Jackson as young Celie, and Willard Pugh as Sofia's husband, Harpo—all breathed life into gritty, unforgettable characters.
Twenty-five years later, The Color Purple remains a timeless tale of tragedy and triumph, a testament to the power of love and the strength of the human spirit.
To this day, Oprah says playing Sofia still ranks as one of the great highlights of her life. "I never had more fun in my life than doing The Color Purple," she says.
Whoopi, on the other hand, says she didn't want the role of Celie at first. "I never made a movie before," she says. "I didn't know how this thing worked, and if I messed it up, I didn't want to get in trouble."
"It's one of the great emotional moments for me in my whole career," Danny says. "It's transformative. The movie itself is transformative. ... It was the beginning of all three of our careers in some sense. The Color Purple was the moment when things began to take off."
Danny says there are still some scenes that are difficult for him to watch. And his grandmother felt the same way. "Somebody showed her The Color Purple when it came out on home video," he says. "She walked out of there so mad, and she said: 'That boy know he was raised better than that. I'm gonna get a switch.' She was around 92 then."
That morning, Danny says Adolph Caesar, the actor who played his father, even forgot his teeth in his hotel room. "Steven [Spielberg] was kind of saying, 'What is going on here?'" Danny says.
This memorable shoot lasted three days. "By the end of the three days, the ham had gone sour," Oprah says. "We didn't want to look at that food."
What many fans don't know is that the little girl sitting next to Oprah at the dinner table is Whoopi's real-life daughter, Alexandrea Martin, who was just 11 years old at the time. Oprah also reveals that she ad-libbed her lines in this scene. "Steven said to me, 'Just tell Miss Celie how you felt when you saw her in the store,'" she says. "I was just sort of making that up."
Then, on the final day of the dinner shoot, Oprah says something happened that she'll never forget. "This was my first time I'd ever acted, and I was so unsure of myself and everything. Whoopi came over, and she gave me a hug," she says. "And she said, 'Today, you became an actress.'"
"I'd auditioned with everybody—Whoopi, Danny, Rae Dawn—but I hadn't got the job," Willard says. "Then, we go and have a meeting. [Steven] paused and said, 'Well, Oprah, Willard—what we waiting on?' Then, he said, 'You got the job.'"
They were so excited, Oprah says they jumped up and knocked over the miniature space shuttles Steven had on his desk.
Oprah says she remembers how strict Reuben was with the inexperienced cast. "I have some Reuben stories myself," Oprah says. "He was very tough on all of us."
Reuben, however, gave Margaret a big break. Originally, the producers wanted Tina Turner to play the role of Shug Avery, but Tina passed. "I owe it to Tina for turning it down and Reuben Cannon for giving me the opportunity to read," Margaret says. "Thank you, Reuben."
Even though her name was on the movie poster—unlike Oprah—Rae Dawn says she never felt like a star. "Now that I'm a lesser big star, I really don't remember being a big star," she says.
Akosua Busia may not have been a recognizable actress when she was cast as Nettie, but she's well known in Ghana, her native country. There, Akosua is a real Ghanaian princess!
At first, Reuben considered Akosua for a role in another film, but he felt she was too young. "He wouldn't let me read, and I was begging," Akosua says.
Then, a few days later, Reuben called and asked Akosua to read Alice Walker's book. "I read it all night," she says. Akosua says she knew someone named Whoopi had the part of Celie, so she auditioned for another role and got it!
"How did you know that this could become a film?" Oprah asks Quincy. "Because, as Whoopi and I were saying, there was nothing like this ever on the screen."
"Here," he says, as he points to his heart.
At first, Quincy says no one thought he'd convince Steven to direct The Color Purple. "Everybody in town was saying, 'Quincy Jones is out of his mind,'" he says. "He thinks he's going to get the greatest director in the world on his first movie, and he's going to do a black movie before Schindler's List. That's when I found the power of being underestimated."
The only cast member who wasn't able to make it to the reunion is Adolph Caesar, who passed away in 1986.
"Thanks to all of my Color Purple family, my husband Harpo," Oprah says.
"Only husband you ever had," Willard says with a smile.
"I can't believe it's been 25 years," he says. "I want to say hi to everybody from the cast who made it onto your show. I wish I was there with you."
Steven says he just returned from shooting the film War Horse, which is why he couldn't make it to the reunion. "I am an exhausted war horse right now, but I couldn't at least turn to the camera and just say, 'I love all of you,'" he says. "This was my first grown-up movie. Even though we were all kids together, what came out the other end is something that I think we'll be proud of for the rest of our lives. I can't imagine my life today without The Color Purple having been a part of it."
More from the show
Whoopi on the death of her mother, View controversy and more
The Color Purple cast shares their favorite lines
Why Oprah and Whoopi didn't speak for years