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Groundbreaking “The Color Purple” shines on 4K


Whoopi Goldberg earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance as Celie, a Southern woman who triumphs over sexual and racial oppression.

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4K Ultra HD & Digital copy; 1985; PG-13 for violence, profanity, brief sexuality; Digital via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (iTunes) (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: The 2003 featurette “Conversations with the Ancestors: The Color Purple from the Book to the Screen”


WHEN STEVEN SPIELBERG’S adaptation of Alice Walker’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel hit theaters during the Christmas holidays of 1985, Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel called it “nothing less than a revelation.” At this point in his career, Spielberg had produced some of Hollywood’s biggest and best action and sci-fi blockbusters. “The Color Purple” was his first adaptation.


Walker’s story focuses on two rural Georgian sisters, although Spielberg’s film mostly follows one sister Celie – played by Whoopi Goldberg in an Oscar-nominated performance. Celie narrates her painful four-decade story (1909-1943) about life with a sexually abusive father to being sold into marriage to the abusive and cruel Albert “Mister” Johnson played by Danny Glover, who won’t even let her read the letters from long-lost younger sister Nettie, a missionary in Africa. Mister first wanted to marry Nettie, the prettier of the two sisters, but was denied.


Mister’s true love is juke joint singer Shug Avery played by Margaret Avery, who tells Celie when she first sees her, “You sure is ugly.” Celie falls for Shug and a brief intimate scene is shown as Shug tells Celie she's beautiful and loves her, and begins to kiss her – far tamer than the more explicit lesbian relationship written in the novel. Celie is based on Walker’s grandmother, who was brutally abused by her grandfather and not attracted to men.  


Another powerful performance comes from Oprah Winfrey as Sofia in her first-time performance. She marries Albert’s son Harpo. At the time Winfrey was hosting an AM Chicago TV talk show, and her critically acclaimed performance launched her career in films and her own TV production company, Harpo Productions. 

Celies early years

(1) 14-year-old Celie (Desreta Jackson) births her second child, conceived by her stepfather. (2) The funeral for Celies mother. (3&4) Albert “Mister” Johnson (Danny Glover) flirts with Nettie (Akosua Busia) during the church service.


Spielberg’s film earned 11 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress for Goldberg, Best Supporting Actress for Avery and Winfrey, Best Screenplay from another Medium, and hosts of other nods. Sadly, “The Color Purple” didn’t win a single Academy Award that night of March 24, 1986, as Sydney Pollack’s “Out of Africa” dominated the ceremony.


Still, Siskel considered it one of the year’s best during the weekly syndicated TV show “Sneak Previews” he co-hosted with Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times. “Spielberg is just as brilliant at reaching our hearts and that’s a big compliment when you’re comparing it to the likes of ‘E.T.’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ Siskel said. Ebert was just as complementary, admitting he didn’t weep at movies, but he did here. “We’ve been with this woman from the beginning and right down to the end. We’ve lived her life and when it gets underneath her skin. It amazed me that Spielberg could make this film.”



The 4K disc and digital includes over 90 minutes of carryover featurettes (2003) with interviews from Spielberg, producer, and composer Quincy Jones, and Walker, who details the birth of her third novel. Her move to rural Northern California became the inspiration for “The Color Purple’s” backdrop. All of the characters came from her parents’ and grandparents’ generations. “I wrote the book out of love for those people,” she says.


Walker admits taking a ton of liberties, insisting on “helping them to be free and giving them things that they never had.” Celie would have a much richer life than what her grandmother lived. She was stuck in the house with her grandfather, and “never went anywhere,” Walker says. But, the author credits her mother who had a great influence on the family, who was an “honest and fearless person, who didn’t take any kind of abuse. She was like Sofia, who would have none of it. And, it was helpful to me to know that a woman doesn’t have to be beaten.”

Celie is sold into marriage

(1) Mister requests to marry younger sister Nettie, but he’s denied. The stepfather offers Celie. (2-4) Celie discovers the Mister’s children and a kitchen that needs a major cleaning. She tries to detangle the hair of one of the daughters. (5) Celie sees her second child Oliva, who was adopted by Rev. Samuel and his wife Corrine (Susan Beaubian).


Spielberg’s involvement arrived through producer Kathleen Kennedy, who suggested he read a “really good women’s story,” one of her favorite books, the director recalls. Kennedy gave Spielberg her copy for the weekend. “I was very moved by it,” he says. “Taken on this journey that these sisters endured. But it kept coming back and haunting me…And, I said yes” to making the film.


Walker demanded approval of the director, the script, and required at least half of the crew to be “people of color,” she said. “And, it all came to pass.” Spielberg invited Walker to be a part of the production and to work with him. She was on the set every single day, and “inspired me constantly,” he says.


Another featurette highlights the work of casting director Reuben Cannon, who first wrote a letter to Jones requesting the opportunity to cast the film. Before Cannon could mail the letter, he got a call from Jones to meet at Spielberg’s Amblin production office. There were additional interviews with Whoopi and Oprah, who began to scream when Spielberg told her she had the role of Sofia. She was so excited, throwing her arms into the air and bumping Spielberg’s model of the space shuttle, where it broke into four pieces. Nearly 20 years later, Oprah still considers it the happiest day of her life.


A brief featurette, “A Bold New Take,” focuses on the new theatrical musical adaptation of “The Color Purple,” which opened on Christmas Day. Oprah, who’s a lead producer of this version says, “There’s nothing more important or vital to me, culturally, artistically, than ‘The Color Purple.’”

Sister Nettie moves in

(1) Nettie moves in with Celie and Mister to avoid the advantages of her stepfather. (2) Now the advances are from Mister, as the sisters place clothes on the line. (3) Nettie teaches Celie how to read. (4-6) Nettie refuses his advances and decides to leave with many tears.



No credit is given to this marvelous 4K restoration other than its release by Warner Brothers, but it’s got Spielberg’s fingerprints all over it. The original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) was scanned and mastered in TRUE 4K. The film grain is organic and completely intact, while the expanded HDR color spectrum is rich and bold with perfect contrast levels from the deep dark shadows to the gorgeous golden highlights from cinematographer Allen Daviau (“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” ‘Empire of the Sun”), when Celie and Nettie hang sheets on the clothesline in the late morning sun. Overall clarity is first-rate, only showing a slight softness during the composite opening title sequence and period dates in Celie’s life.


The encoding is onto a 100-gigabit disc and averages above 60 Megabits per second of video from start to finish. This marks Spielberg’s 19th film to be released on 4K Ultra HD discs and he leads all other directors, with Alfred Hitchcock and Ridley Scott both with 14 films on 4K physical. No doubt, this presentation will make our Top 10 4K discs of 2023.



The six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack is ported over from the previous Blu-ray, which still provides a balanced soundstage for dialogue and Quincy Jones' lively score (also nominated for an Oscar, including a Best Song nod for “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister).”


“The Color Purple” may not fall in Spielberg’s Top 10 films of all time, but as Roger Ebert said in his original review, “The affirmation at the end of the film is so joyous that this is one of the few movies in a long time that inspires tears of happiness and earns them. ‘The Color Purple’ is the year’s best film.”


Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

Keeping Celie down

(1&2) Mister intercepts the many letters addressed to Celie from her sister. (3) Celie continues her reading, with a Spielberg trademark shadow lighting technique. (4) Sofia (Oprah Winfrey) is furious with Celie for telling her husband Harpo to beat her because of her demands. (5) Celie still hopes for a letter from Nettie.


Blues singer Shug Avery


Sofias downfall




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