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The Color Purple stars ‘want to make Oprah Winfrey proud’

Singer Fantasia Barrino is making her feature film debut

The stars of a new musical film version of the novel The Color Purple have said they want to make Oprah Winfrey, who acted in the previous film adaptation, proud.

Fantasia Barrino and Danielle Brooks, who act as Celie and Sofia respectively, are taking on roles previously played by Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah in the 1985 film.

"It's really cool for them to pass the torch to us," Brooks told the BBC.

Barrino added that they wanted to "bring something new" to the roles.

The film, based on Alice Walker's classic book and the Broadway musical, follows the story of a black American teenage girl, Celie, who is born into poverty in racially divided Georgia in the early 1900s.

Oprah is a producer of the new film, as is Steven Spielberg, who directed the 1985 version.

Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson, Oprah Winfrey and Fantasia Barrino attend ELLE's 2023 Women in Hollywood Celebration
Left-right: Danielle Brooks, Taraji P Henson, Oprah Winfrey and Fantasia Barrino

Meanwhile, Goldberg, who was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Celie in the original film, has a cameo role in this one.

But the new stars say they are not daunted by having such big shoes to fill.

"There are moments of wanting to make them proud," Brooks said. "But just as the scene where Whoopi is the midwife to Celie's baby, I think that's the image that is representative of what they have done, and are doing, for us."

Barrino added: "We're not coming here to change the blueprint, we want to stick to that, but we're both adding a little something from our lives to it."

The actress's own life experiences may well have played a part in shaping how she approached this film.

Danielle Brooks and Fantasia Barrino star in The Color Purple
Brooks and Barrino have both been nominated for Bafta Awards for their performances

In Barrino's memoir, Life is not a Fairy Tale, she revealed she was raped at school and experienced teen pregnancy and illiteracy.

Her character Celie also experienced hardship at a young age. Some scenes are difficult to watch, as we see Celie being abused by her father and forced into marriage to a husband who beats her.

But she is a survivor who finds strength and solidarity in the company of other women, such as Sofia, who is fiercely independent, and the fabulous singer Shug Avery, played this time by Taraji P Henson. That's why, according to Brooks, "this is a positive movie".

"There is beauty to be seen in our pain. Yes we don't want to go through it, but we went through it, and there are people who are going to be healed from seeing these stories. That's where the joy lies. That's where the freedom lies."

Walker's book, which came out in 1982, won a Pulitzer Prize and is still seen as a seminal piece of literature for its portrayal of racism and segregation in the early 20th Century.

It continues to resonate with audiences today. "All of us wanted to be part of such an honest story," Barrino said.

Taraji P Henson in The Color Purple
Taraji P Henson acts as the glamorous Shug Avery

Brooks, for her part, first read the book in high school and "has never put it down".

"There's still so much more to be gained from this story," she said.

When asked whether America is still a racist country, Brooks pauses.

"It's like a bad relationship," she said. "It's two races that are really trying to figure out how to love each other, and so we're working through that."

"It's changed a whole lot," Barrino added. "I don't think there is hate everywhere."

Directed by Black is King's Blitz Bazawule, The Color Purple incorporates songs written for the Broadway musical and is infused with elements of gospel, blues and jazz.

Both Barrino and Brooks were in the stage musical, which opened on Broadway in 2005. There was also an international production of the show, which transferred to London in 2013.

Released in the US on 25 December, the new film has a star-studded cast, which also includes the likes of Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins and Halle Bailey.

Writing in The Telegraph, film critic Robbie Collin said it was a "fun jolt of musical joy" in his four-star review.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw awarded it three stars but noted that it "sugars the pill and softens the blow" from the original movie.

Despite a lot of buzz, it has so far disappointed at the box office. Its release has also been overshadowed by a row over on-set working conditions and pay inequality, following an interview given by Henson to The New York Times.

'We are walking Oscars'

The 1985 film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including best picture, but famously didn't win in any category. It's tied for the most Oscar-nominated movie ever with no wins.

The new movie has already been nominated for best ensemble in a motion picture in the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which has often been seen as a precursor to Oscars success.

It has also scored Bafta and Golden Globe nominations for both Barrino and Brooks. And with awards season hotting up, we could be hearing more about the film in the weeks ahead.

But nine years since the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, has enough changed to make the industry more diverse?

The hashtag - started by activist and writer April Reign - began trending in 2015, highlighting the fact that out of 20 actors nominated that year, none were people of colour.

"I'm just glad names are being spoken of," said Brooks. "I'm just grateful that people are hopefully acknowledging our work. That's all you can ask for."

For singer Barrino, who won American Idol in 2004, this is her feature film acting debut.

"This is new for me in the Oscars world," she said. "But I always tell my castmates, this is the way I look at it, we are all real-life walking Oscars, whether they give it to us or not."

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.