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Inside Whoopi Goldberg’s Secret Cameo in the New ‘Color Purple’

Warning: The following contains spoilers for “The Color Purple.”

Minutes into the new film adaptation of “The color purple”, young Célie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) is giving birth in her room. It’s a difficult scene, considering she’s only in her early teens and the baby is the result of rape by the man she knows is her father. And this second child, like her first, will be immediately taken away from her.

Yet there is a great sense of comfort, thanks to a familiar face.

“You are doing very well, Miss Celie,” says a midwife, played by none other than Whoopi Goldberg. “I just need you to push one more time.”

The surprise appearance was a way for actors and creatives to the new film from Warner Bros., now in theaters, to pay homage to its on-screen predecessor. Goldberg’s first major film role was that of Celie, a 1985 Steven Spielberg adaptation, a poor black woman living in the rural South in the early 1900s. Goldberg had written to the author Alice Walker after reading his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, begging to play any character in the movie. Walker responded that Goldberg was already on his radar for the lead role.

“I liked her right away,” Walker wrote in his 1997 book “The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult” of watching Goldberg in her one-woman show before her casting. “I like people who refuse to be victims and who like to show everyone how it’s done. She was wonderful, with dreadlocks, with an irrepressible, devious glint in her eye.”

The Times review praised Goldberg’s turn as Celie as “a most touching debut” – a performance that earned the film one of its 11 Academy Award nominations. Goldberg has since stated that, decades later, the film “resonates for people because it says that, no matter what, if you keep going, that’s progression, not necessarily solving a goal, but progression toward this objective, despite everything, is what will allow us to get through life. »

Learn more: The 40-year struggle over the queer love story of ‘The Color Purple’

Screenwriter Marcus Gardley wanted Goldberg’s presence in the new film to have both narrative and metaphorical meaning. “We had a hard time figuring out where it could take place and what character she would play, because Spielberg’s film has such an important place in our culture,” he told the Times. “And these actresses grew up watching these iconic roles that inspired them to become actresses themselves“.

Since Gardley thought Goldberg playing Celie’s mother “felt too bad”, he created the role of a local midwife. “Symbolically, it seemed like the perfect part, because she’s the one who not only encourages him during childbirth, but it’s as if she gave birth to the role herself and now we see her convey it,” he explains. “It’s one of the most beautiful scenes because you see (Goldberg) looking at (Mpasi) with pride and saying, ‘You can do this.’ “

Capturing the key moment took a while, only because Goldberg kept joking. “We had to stop and laugh because of everything she did, and we forget that she comes from stand-up (comedy),” recalls director Blitz Bazawule. “But more than anything, I remember how caring and loving she was towards Phylicia. It was symbolic not only because of what Whoopi represents in ‘The Color Purple’ canon, but also what Whoopi represents , period – the heavyweight she is. , and the doors she opened.”

Learn more: Review: “The Color Purple” returns to the screen, more vibrant and more faithful to Alice Walker’s novel

The cameo remained largely a surprise intact, with not even a hint of a reunion when the cast visited Goldberg’s ABC talk show “The View.” And while Goldberg didn’t attend promotional events for the new film (as other actors from the original film did), his absence is arguably part of his overall approach to appearing on screen.

“We talked about it a little bit in her trailer, and she said, ‘I’m just here to pass the baton,'” Bazawule says of Goldberg. “I really appreciated that, because not everyone is as gracious when it comes to knowing that ‘The Color Purple’ is really the star here. It was incredibly special to know that we had his blessing to move forward with this release.”

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This story was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

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