Whoopi Goldberg’s sublime portrayal of Celie in the movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” was one of the first films to enter my personal lexicon of Black cult classics.
Celie’s arc, which spanned multiple decades detailing her journey through poverty, abuse, depression, and a low sense of self-worth, was not lost on me.
And when I took my mother to see the “The Color Purple” on Broadway last year, I wept openly as Cynthia Erivo belted out Celie’s triumphant solo, “I’m here,” towards the end of the show. In the end, the crowd was left breathless.
That’s why it was disheartening when actress Elizabeth Banks omitted the fact that Steven Spielberg directed the 1985 film during an off the cuff rant regarding Spielberg’s lack of female leads.
“I went to ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Jaws’ and every movie Steven Spielberg ever made, and by the way, he’s never made a movie with a female lead,” she said on Wednesday night as she accepted an award at the annual Women In Film ceremony. “Sorry, Steven. I don’t mean to call your ass out but it’s true.”
Banks leaves us to wonder, would Goldberg’s portrayal of Celie be easier to remember if she were White?
Her statement points to a larger problem that Black feminists like myself encounter as we continue our urgent call to action in the fight for women and their livelihoods.
When feminists make egregious errors such as Banks’ bold omission, it works in favor of those aimed at discrediting the movement as inclusive. White feminists need to understand that women of color ain’t new to this, we true to this.
Feminism is emboldened in our blood and the tiresome efforts (whether intentional or not) to Ctrl+Alt+Delete the contributions of Black women cannot continue.
In one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, Celie is violently confronted by her husband and constant abuser, Mr., who attempts to prevent her from permanently leaving the desolate home they’ve shared for over 30 years.
With her arm stretched out, hand formed in the shape of a three-pronged claw, she ordains over him, “Everything you done to me, already done to you.”
As she drives off into the wind with her lover-friend Shug Avery and Avery’s new husband, Celie reminds Mr. that her inner affirmation has finally bubbled up to the surface. “I’m poor, Black; I may even be ugly. But dear God, I’m here!” she yells into the wind.
In that moment, Celie starts her journey to self-actulization, in spite of Mr.’s attempts at erasure.
Because women of color will not only reach higher, we will soar. Even if we have to do it with your foot on our backs.