The Black Kino Fist: Black life as depicted in film history

The Color Purple (1985)

"Racism, male chauvinism, incest, and domestic violence - all present in The Color Purple (1985) - were not typical Steven Spielberg themes in the mid 1980s. His recent directorial hits included Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and E.T. (1982). So Spielberg was definitely an unexpected choice to direct the screen adaptation of Alice Walker's novel. But after Amblin Entertainment partner Kathleen Kennedy handed him the novel to read, he knew it was the next challenge he wanted to tackle.
Many critics immediately questioned what was a white male doing directing a passionately feminist story of a black woman in the Deep South. Some said it was a calculated attempt to win an Academy Award®. Others believed he was seeking greater respect by making a mature film from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. In the biography Adult Truths by Joseph McBride, Spielberg himself explained that he wanted to "challenge [himself] with something that was not stereotypically a Spielberg movie. Not to try to prove anything, or to show off - just to try to use a different set of muscles."
Even Alice Walker had her doubts. When Spielberg was first proposed as director, she confessed that she was not familiar with his name and requested an interview with him. For the first time in eleven years, Spielberg had to pass an interview to direct a film. He visited her home in San Francisco with Quincy Jones and ultimately impressed the author. According to McBride's Adult Truths, Walker explained in her journal, "Quincy had talked so positively about him I was almost dreading his appearance - but then, after a moment of near, I don't know what, uneasiness, he came in and sat down and started right in showing how closely he had read the book. And making really intelligent comments." He had an "absolute grasp of the essentials of the book, the feeling, the spirit."
Despite Walker's approval, several groups adamantly contested the film when it went into release. One of the most vocal oppositions came from the Coalition Against Black Exploitation. This twenty-member group based in Los Angeles boycotted the film and organized picket lines outside theaters where it was being shown. The coalition accused the film of degrading black men, black children, and black families. The NAACP's Hollywood branch also asserted a similar protest. Many feminist groups, including Alice Walker herself, later criticized the film for downplaying the novel's lesbian themes as well as leaving out some of the more disturbing elements of the plot, such as Celie's molestation by her father in the beginning of the book."
- E. Lacey Rice for TCM
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