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The Color of Purple: A Negative Portrayal

This is a subject matter that I really did not want to address simply because of the sensitivity it creates among Black men and women. However, as I began to read some of the comments Black women are making in defense of the Color of Purple, I just couldn't resist any longer to speak out …

This is a subject matter that I really did not want to address simply because of the sensitivity it creates among Black men and women. However, as I began to read some of the comments Black women are making in defense of the Color of Purple, I just couldn’t resist any longer to speak out as a Black man who has dedicated his efforts to the necessity for Black men and women’s unity for the sake of the sustainability of our culture.

The Color of Purple does just the opposite as its central characters are Celie and Mister and much of its concentration is centered around the latter’s abuse of the former. Alice Walker has written a novel, which was made into a movie, a Broadway musical, and now another movie based on the musical that, at the least, portrays a dysfunctional family. At the most, the story paints a dysfunctional perception of the Black culture, and why any serious novelist would inflict that kind of damage to a race that is in a crisis mode for its survival is questionable.

Many of the supporters of Walker’s work argue that it is a realistic depiction of what is happening and has occurred in Black America. They further argue that Black women have a right to express their abusive experiences at the hands of Black men and that physical violence and rape are realities of their existence. My question to these women is, why would you want to magnify and therefore give it some value in a novel, a movie, a Broadway musical, and now an additional movie based on the musical? When does a particular story reach overkill? How many other stories have received so much coverage that it has remained in the public arena for over 40 years?

One of the most disturbing lines in the story occurs in the last scene. As Celie is being rescued by Shug Avery, she stares back at Mister and says, “I’m poor, I’m Black, and I may be ugly… .” 

Why I find this disturbing is because Walker does what white writers have done throughout the centuries, and that is to associate the color black with a negative connotation, which is ugly. I can just imagine what the great Nina Simone would say about Walker’s description of a Black woman as weighed against her beautiful song, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” 

More importantly, which of these two portrayals of Black females should parents of young girls want to be articulated to their daughters either through novels, movies, or any other form of entertainment?

I would never attempt to assume Walker’s reasoning for writing such a negative portrayal of the Black family and our culture. However, given Hollywood’s past track record in its portrayal of Black America, their reasoning is as it has been for centuries. 

Fred Williams

Frederick Williams is the author of four novels, has ghostwritten three autobiographies, and has edited numerous works, including “The Color of Strength: Embracing the Passion of Our Culture.” Fred worked on Capitol Hill for Senator Birch Bayh as a legislative aide. He assisted in the drafting and management of the first Senate legislative proposal to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. He also assisted in the creation of the African American Studies minor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He designed and taught a number of classes to include African American Political Thought, African American Politics, African American Literature from Phyllis Wheatley to the Black Arts Movement, Politics of the Civil Rights Movement, and a course on Novelists of the Harlem Renaissance. Fred teaches creative writing courses for Black Writers on Tour in Los Angeles, Calif., and for the Zora Neale Hurston Festival Education Day in Eatonville, Florida. He also teaches writing courses at Gemini Ink in his hometown of San Antonio. Fred was named one of the four recipients of the “Men of the Year Award” by San Antonio Magazine. He also received the 2011 Arts and Letters Award from the Friends of the San Antonio Public Library.

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