SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers from “The Color Purple,” currently playing in theaters.
While ‘The Color Purple’ director Blitz Bazawule and his all-star cast were on their press tour ahead of the musical film’s release on Christmas Day, they made a special trip to visit ‘The View’ and Whoopi Goldberg, who starred in the 1985 film adaptation of Alice Walker’s classic novel.
It’s been nearly 40 years since Goldberg played Celie, an abused and uneducated Southern black woman whose journey to liberation is at the center of Walker’s story. Bazawule and stars Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks and Taraji P. Henson wanted to give her flowers.
“’The Color Purple’ is sacred ground. You don’t show up with nothing to offer and nothing to contribute,” Bazawule said when Goldberg asked why he decided to sign on for the film. “This is a brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning book. It’s an incredible cinema classic. And we owe it to you. Henson led the studio audience in a standing ovation for Goldberg.
The 1985 film, directed by Steven Spielberg, marked Goldberg’s big screen debut and her performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She didn’t win the award, but it was the first step on Goldberg’s journey to becoming the first black woman to earn an EGOT (winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award).
“We wouldn’t be here without you,” Brooks told Goldberg, visibly touched by the praise, as everyone took their seats.
But what the studio audience and viewers watching at home didn’t know is that Goldberg didn’t just inspire the filmmakers behind the latest iteration of “The Color Purple” — she also makes an appearance in the movie.
“We had to remain discreet about his involvement from the start. Only the key team knew Whoopi was playing the role,” says Bazawule. Variety to keep it secret until the film is released in theaters. “We have never mentioned her in any press and she is not credited for this role.”
The magical moment comes early in the film, when teenage Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi), pregnant with her second child by the man she knows is her father, goes into labor. Her sister Nettie (Halle Bailey) runs to find the local midwife – who is played by Goldberg.
“You’re doing great, Miss Celie,” Goldberg said – helping the young woman give birth. “I just need you to push one more time.”
As she places the newborn in her mother’s arms, Goldberg passes the torch to the next generation of Celies. It’s a touching and tasteful appearance that highlights why Walker’s story is timeless and worth telling again and again.
This surprise appearance marks another way the 2023 film continues the legacy of the 1985 film; it is produced by Spielberg and Quincy Jones, who were behind this adaptation, as well as Oprah Winfrey, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance, as well as Scott Sanders, who directed the production of the Tony-winning Broadway musical adaptation.
“I always knew I wanted a connection between the original cast of “The Color Purple” and the new cast. The obvious person was Whoopi because she’s synonymous with the title,” Bazawule explains, saying he and screenwriter Marcus Gardley discussed how best to incorporate Goldberg into the story. “We opted for the midwife because of her symbolic encounter.”
Gardley explained the symbolism in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: “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 pass it on. It’s one of the most beautiful scenes because you see (Goldberg) look at (Mpasi) with pride and say, ‘You can do this.’
Writing the perfect role was just the first step. Someone needed to approach Goldberg about playing the role, so Bazawule called.
“That was probably one of the most nervous calls ever,” he says, looking back on that fateful conversation. “She was warm from the start, and then she finished by saying, ‘Blitz, the only way I won’t be there is if I get hit by a bus.’ I laughed. It was the best phone call ever.
Much like the filming of the cameo itself, the director won’t say when, where or if Goldberg saw the final cut, but given the warm welcome she gave Bazawule and the crew when they appearance on “View,” one would imagine she’s thrilled.
For her part, Winfrey described the cameo as both “a wonderful Easter egg for audiences who have enjoyed the film over the years, for diehards” and “a beautiful tribute to Whoopi.” She also told The Hollywood Reporter that she declined to make an appearance in the film, fearing it would be distracting if she appeared in the scene where Sofia (Danielle Brooks) and Harpo (Corey Hawkins) get married.
“Plus, I just think it’s more special that it’s just Whoopi,” Winfrey said.
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