“The Color Purple” Star Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor Says Movie Musical Sanitized 'Story About Black Lesbians'

"You're sanitizing me and my friends, and other people who I love and adore. Why?" the actress said

<p> Charles Sykes/Variety via Getty</p> Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor

Charles Sykes/Variety via Getty

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor

The Color Purple cast member Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor wanted the film to go further in its portrayal of the book's LGBTQ storyline.

In an interview with BuzzFeed, the actress, who earned an Oscar nomination for King Richard and stars in the new film Origin, said the new Color Purple movie musical "sanitized" the romance between Celie and Shug Avery, played by Fantasia Barrino and Taraji P. Henson.

"The Color Purple is a book about Black lesbians. Whether the choice was made to focus on that or not in the cinematic iterations of The Color Purple, it's still a movie about Black lesbians," said Ellis-Taylor, 55, who has previously spoken about being bisexual.

"People can try to say the story is about sisterhood, but it's a story about Black lesbians. Period," she continued. "What is hard for me is that when we have those spaces where we can honor the truth of that, we walk away from it. We suppress it. We hide it. We sanitize it."

"In the sanitizing of it, someone like me — knowing that The Color Purple is a book about Black lesbians — looks at that and thinks, 'You're sanitizing me and my friends, and other people who I love and adore. Why?' [If it's because] you don't want to be offensive, then you're saying to the world that I'm offensive."

The 1985 Color Purple film featured a brief kiss between Celie and Shug, played then by Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Avery. In the 2023 film, the characters kiss, wake up in bed together and share a close bond.

Related: Why Fantasia Barrino ‘Hated’ Being in The Color Purple on Broadway but Loved Doing the Film Version (Exclusive)

Ellis-Taylor, who stars as Celie and Nettie's mother in the new version, recalled to BuzzFeed, "The first time that I saw The Color Purple, it [was] before I understood who I was. I knew that watching Margaret Avery kiss Whoopi Goldberg was astonishing, exciting and affirming."

"It showed me the possibility of myself and the possibility to love a woman who loves me in return. I'll never get over that," she added. "It lives with me. It's hard seeing so much about the film [being discussed], but [the queer element] is the least discussed. Why are we talking about it almost in a sort of incidental way?"

The star said author Alice Walker, who published the original book in 1982, wrote it "with intention because she was writing about herself."

"I just want that part of the book to be portrayed in the films with intention, instead of it being incidental. I want people to walk away from The Color Purple thinking, 'I just saw a movie about Black lesbians.' I don't think that has happened," said Ellis-Taylor.

Related: Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor on Origin’s Lack of Awards Recognition: ‘We Award the White Guys’ (Exclusive)

<p>Ser Boff</p> Fantasia Barino and Taraji P. Henson in "The Color Purple"

Ser Boff

Fantasia Barino and Taraji P. Henson in "The Color Purple"

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Director Blitz Bazawule told the Los Angeles Times they wanted to expand the queer storyline in the new version. "Celie is a queer icon, and Alice Walker has been very vocal about that. Our job was to just lean into it harder, and give a little bit more context and a little more beauty to her coming-out moment."

Walker, now 80, told The Hollywood Reporter of the new adaptation's portrayal, “I really love it that [audiences] have to take away the reality that Shug and Celie become lovers, because I think that we have really needed help there. We really needed to see that love is love ... that people love whoever they love, and it is their right to do that."

The Color Purple is now streaming on Max.

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