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An emotional Oprah Winfrey and the cast of The Color Purple spoke about the transformative power of the upcoming film at its first public screening, getting spiritual as they cited its divine effect on their lives.
“For every one of us up here, it is a story of, ‘look at what God has done,’” said Winfrey, who wore a lilac sequined outfit in a nod to the musical, on the panel after the showing at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on Thursday night.
Winfrey, a producer on the musical with Scott Sanders and an Oscar nominee for her role as Sophia in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film adaptation, said the Alice Walker book the films are based on helped her comprehend the sexual abuse she endured as a child.
“Until that time, I didn’t know there was language for what had happened to me,” she told the audience in a conversation moderated by Variety’s Angelique Jackson. “I had been raped and had a child who later died, and I did not have any language to explain what that was. And that book was the first time there was a story about me.”
Winfrey said starring in the movie was a dream come true “that changed everything for me,” and spoke of the joy in being able to return to the material as the film’s producer. “It’s a full-circle moment,” she added.
Winfrey also spoke of passing the torch to Danielle Brooks, who plays the role of Sophia in Blitz Bazawule’s musical adaptation. Brooks wept as she spoke about what the role meant to her and noted how Winfrey gave her the freedom to define Sophia as her own: “She held my hand and let me fly.”
Fantasia Barrino, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal of Celie in the Broadway musical adaptation of The Color Purple, said she was going to pass on the opportunity to reprise the role in the film until Bazawule convinced her.
“He allowed me to see…what women go through and how we sometimes need to imagine ourselves in a different place before we get there.”
Taraji P. Henson, who plays Shug Avery, also needed convincing to take on the role in the musical film. “The funny thing about life, when something is destined for you, you cannot run away from it. I tried,” she said. “This is iconic. This is something that is going to live on forever.”
Brooks also took a moment to note the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike that allowed the actors to promote the film, saying, “one hundred and eighteen days, y’all. We were unsure if we would be here for this moment, and we’re here.”
Other castmembers attending the panel included Corey Hawkins, who plays Harpo, Halle Bailey, who plays a young Nettie, Oscar- and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter H.E.R., who plays Squeak, and Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, who is a young Celie.
The Color Purple hits theaters Christmas Day.