Oprah Winfrey mentored Danielle Brooks on iconic 'Color Purple' scene

Danielle Brooks and Cory Hawkins star in "The Color Purple." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
1 of 6 | Danielle Brooks and Cory Hawkins star in "The Color Purple." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Producer Oprah Winfrey told an audience at the first screening of The Color Purple musical film, in theaters Dec. 25, that she insisted on visiting the set the day Danielle Brooks filmed an important scene.

Brooks, 34, plays Sophia, the role Winfrey played in the 1985 film adaptation of Alice Walker's book. In the scene, Sophia finds out that her friend suggested her husband beat her into obedience, and Sophia describes how she's fought "all my life."


"It felt like passing the baton of glory and goodness," Winfrey, 69, said on Thursday night in Los Angeles. "What Alice Walker seeded in the novel goes beyond us."

Brooks played Sophia on stage in the 2015 production of The Color Purple. For the film, Brooks received advice from Winfrey both as the film's producer and the actor who played the role in the 1985 Steven Spielberg film.


"She held my hand through the whole thing," Brooks said. "She reminded me to call on my ancestors, that they're there, that they will never leave you, even if you feel depleted."

The Color Purple takes place from 1909 to 1947, beginning with sisters Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi and Fantasia Barrino) and Nettie (Halle Bailey and Ciara), separated when Celie is first to marry the abusive Mister (Colman Domingo).

Sophia enters the story in 1917 when she marries Mister's son, Harpo (Cory Hawkins). Brooks said Winfrey's example taught her that she, too, will one day be in the position to mentor another performer.

"It taught me the lesson: When it's my turn, do the same," Brooks said.

The 1985 film was Winfrey's first acting role. In 2005, she produced the stage musical with Quincy Jones and Scott Sanders.

Blitz Bazawule directs this film adaptation of the stage musical. Bazawule, 41, said the film also expands upon Celie's characterization in the story.

Bazawule said he was inspired by Walker's text to expand on the film's portrayal of Celie's imagination. Though all of the characters in The Color Purple sing and dance, some of the musical numbers occur specifically in Celie's mind.


"Most people who deal with trauma and abuse are often miscategorized as docile, waiting to be saved," Bazawule said. "That is not the case. They're working actively in their heads to try to free themselves."

Barrino, 39, played Celie on Broadway from 2007 to 2008 after winning American Idol in 2004. Barrino said she was not interested in reprising the role in the film until Bazawule explained the concept of Celie's imagination.

"He allowed you to see what women go through," Barrino said. "We sometimes have to imagine ourselves in a different place before we get there."

Whoopi Goldberg played Celie in the 1985 film. Barrino first assumed the role from LaChanze on Broadway, and said the 15 years between playing Celie on stage and screen highlighted the evolution of her life.

"I'm grown now," Barrino said. "Back then, I just related to her. My life was in shambles, so it was a different weight that I carried."

Through meeting women like Sophia and Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), and finding her confidence in her imagination, Celie learns to stand up to Mister. Barrino said every incarnation of The Color Purple promotes healing.


Barrino said she has proof the latest Color Purple movie is healing. Barrino said she has been estranged from her family for 20 years.

"I haven't spoken to my family in over 20 years and they sent me a text and said they all rented out a movie theater," Barrino said. "They're going to see the movie."

Other women in Celie's orbit gain self-confidence, too. Harpo's second wife, Squeak, is an aspiring singer who ultimately comes out of her shell.

Recording artist H.E.R., 26, plays Squeak. She had been waiting for an acting role and related to Squeak more than she expected to.

In her first movie, H.E.R. said she was intimidated by working with legends on the set. But, as she gained confidence, she was able to portray Squeak's evolution.

"The first scene we shot is the first time you see me and I'm like, 'I can sing too,'" H.E.R. said. "I was actually hesitant in real life to say something like that."

H.E.R. said Bazawule would reassure her with every take until she gained confidence in her acting.

"I gain my confidence in real life and in the movie by the end of the movie," H.E.R. said.


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