The Color Purple Blitz Bazawule SBIFF
Blitz Bazawule The Color Purple director courtesy of SBIFF

“Dear God, I am fourteen years old.”

That’s the first line of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel, The Color Purple. Searching for inspiration for his 2023 movie adaptation, director Blitz Bazawule opened up the book and turned to the first page. Reading those words, he immediately knew where to start.

Director Blitz Bazawule on Making The Color Purple

“When I got the opportunity to make this film, I was quite intimidated. As you guys know, the bar is quite high. It is a Steven Spielberg classic. It is a Tony Award winning Broadway play. So I was quite uncertain how to even approach it,” Bazawule said during a Q&A following a screening of his version of The Color Purple at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

“So I went back to Alice’s book, and I found what I was looking for, first page, first line: ‘Dear God, I am fourteen years old.’ I said, ‘Stop.'”

Reading that sentence gave Bazawule a road map to the main character, Celie, played by Fantasia Barrino. It told him everything he needed to know about how to build the movie around her hopes, dreams, and steadfastness in the face of adversity.

The Color Purple follows Barrino as Celie, who faces countless hardships including having an abusive husband and being separated from her sister and her children. With help from her stepdaughter and a singer named Shug Avery, Celie finds strength in sisterhood.

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“Anyone who can write letters to God must have an imagination, a sprawling imagination. And my job was to expand that imagination, give Celie everything she could imagine. That involved how to love, who to love, how to forgive, how to chart her way out of abuse — because… the misconception is that those who suffer abuse and trauma are docile, passive, waiting to be saved. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth,” Bazawule said.

“People who deal with abuse and trauma are constantly working in their minds how to liberate themselves, how to break themselves out of this bondage of trauma and abuse. And I think that Celie was a perfect example of what happens when you get into the character’s headspace. You find that they are active and they are building and eventually they will arrive at where they’re trying to get to.”

Other cast in Bazawule’s adaptation of The Color Purple from Warner Bros. include Halle Bailey, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo, Taraji P. Henson, Corey Hawkins, Ciara, H.E.R., Jon Batiste, Aunjanue Ellis, and Elizabeth Marvel.

Watch the full interview with Bazawule and The Color Purple editor John Poll below.