hepclassic

The Color Purple- Celie & Shug

34 posts in this topic

You probably saw it before, Hep, but go ahead and find The Celluloid Closet on youtube and give it another viewing. I recommend that documentary for any ol' movie buff, regardless of "orientation", since it covers a lot of fascinating material spanning from 1912-1994. Also Lily Tomlin is a good narrator.

 

Also both you and jamesjazzguitar realize that the three of us are part of a dying breed. Many in the younger generation are not into movies much. Their entertainment is found in youtube, video games, maybe Netflix (until the novelty wears out) and other venues. Some are forecasting the death of television itself within the next two decades.

 

On the plus side, the younger crowd is also more open to variety... and less subject to prejudice... than their parents. Gay themed entertainment is very much alive and thriving, but it is more of a specialty market (a.k.a. TLA Video, etc.) just like video games, country music, golf, NASCAR and everything else. Heck, even TCM is a specialty market these days.

 

They say the average movie shown on a movie screen must consist of special effects because the average movie goer is a twenty five year old male who can see any kind of sexuality on the internet for free. Heck... we no longer see "topless babes" on screen any more unless it is 50 Shades Of Grey.

I'm in my late 20's, and most classic film fans I know are younger or around the same age as me. Don't write off an entire generation just because what corporate studios have made for us with projected expectations of box office produce. Most of us are watching any film that tickles our fancy on Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime. Or youtube if we can't afford those other three options. 

 

The venues are wider, it is easier to access the films we want to see- but to concurrent with my last post to James, there is hesitancy from the old studio execs who still market with award shows what they want to market. 

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I'm in my late 20's, and most classic film fans I know are younger or around the same age as me. Don't write off an entire generation just because what corporate studios have made for us with projected expectations of box office produce. Most of us are watching any film that tickles our fancy on Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime. Or youtube if we can't afford those other three options. 

 

The venues are wider, it is easier to access the films we want to see- but to concurrent with my last post to James, there is hesitancy from the old studio execs who still market with award shows what they want to market. 

 

Ohhhhhh... you know I didn't mean it quite like THAT. Ha ha! Every one of us is an individual. My grandparents are long since deceased, but one had a great memory of a great many movies he saw, while another was never that "into" the past and was only concerned about what was happening now.

 

I guess I was referring more to the changing technologies rather than the humans themselves. Yet... as you point out here... we have more opportunities to see all kinds of entertainment than we ever did before.

 

On a positive note, I do believe... and stated so... that the "millennials" are more broad-minded and less prejudiced than their parents and grandparents and that is a GOOD thing. Yes, there are still some OLD people running things today, but they won't be forever.

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Ohhhhhh... you know I didn't mean it quite like THAT. Ha ha! Every one of us is an individual. My grandparents are long since deceased, but one had a great memory of a great many movies he saw, while another was never that "into" the past and was only concerned about what was happening now.

 

I guess I was referring more to the changing technologies rather than the humans themselves. Yet... as you point out here... we have more opportunities to see all kinds of entertainment than we ever did before.

 

On a positive note, I do believe... and stated so... that the "millennials" are more broad-minded and less prejudiced than their parents and grandparents and that is a GOOD thing. Yes, there are still some OLD people running things today, but they won't be forever.

That's true. But until then, we can keep pushing, and seeing things differently than before. Like the origin of this thread, a gay relationship between two women of color. 

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In light of that point, The Color Purple had great box office. 

 

As of late, The Help had great box office. Colored Girls had great box office. The Butler and 12 Years A Slave had great box office. Selma had fantastic box office. So, a film about, made by, and starring African-Americans makes great box office and the trend is swinging. However, the Old Establishment of Hollywood, is hesitant, which means it would take a lot more money for them to recognize these films on a yearly basis. Reaching out to diversify the voting bodies would help, but it's on par with finding African-American political figureheads to endorse this candidate or that candidate along with appealing language from the candidate in question. 

 

(This is a political metaphor here, so bare with me as this is subject related)

 

Hollywood according to studio execs is the Hillary Clinton to the film-going audience's Bernie Sanders. Sanders is edging close, causing Clinton to get defensive and up the game, as the Academy has done. However, what will be at bay when the sun rises in a year will determine who will be shining under it and experiencing the glow for the first time. 

 

As you noted change takes time.  Since movies feature storylines related to the topics we are discussing have made money we should expect more movies that feature these topics.   I'm all for this since diversity of stories is more interesting to me instead of the same old stuff that has been told over and over again.     

 

Your Clinton \ Sanders metaphor is solid.    Regardless of if Sanders wins or not the narrative has changed and that should lead to more progress.

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As you noted change takes time.  Since movies feature storylines related to the topics we are discussing have made money we should expect more movies that feature these topics.   I'm all for this since diversity of stories is more interesting to me instead of the same old stuff that has been told over and over again.     

 

Your Clinton \ Sanders metaphor is solid.    Regardless of if Sanders wins or not the narrative has changed and that should lead to more progress.

Then I suggest, if you haven't done so already, to seek out the films you want to see in your future in the present. I already do, and I like putting my money where my mouth is. 

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A couple random thoughts on this film...

I remember seeing The Color Purple in the theater in early 1986 when I was a senior in high school. (Revealing my true age here.) Surprisingly the famous kiss didn't seem to be that big of a deal at the time. Three possible reasons...
1.) I had seen similar scenes in a couple earlier "mainstream" films by that time (and some like The Hunger went a lot further) and I suspect others in that same theater did too. My memory isn't great, but I don't recall any of the gasps I distinctly remember later during The Crying Game and Brokeback Mountain (even though those films are rather innocent in hindsight). During the AIDS-paranoid Reagan years, lesbianism wasn't that big of a deal compared to gay MALE activity... even kissing.
2.) It could also be that Spielberg softened its "shock" value by having both ladies discuss in depth their heterosexual activity with a man, suggesting that they were still OK doing what was considered "normal" by any homophobic straight movie viewers. The only weird part about this was that they were discussing the same man.
3.) Shug even says she enjoys it with HIM even if Celie simply feels abused by HIM. Later Shug marries a man and we see no further intimacy with Celie beyond the friendship level. This reminded me... at least on a subconscious level... of an episode of Golden Girls on TV that I saw roughly 9-10 months later with Blanche (reminding me of Shug's comments) saying "a man has so much more to offer, you know what I mean, Dorothy?"



Most of the controversy that I remember with The Color Purple had to do with Danny Glover's characterization of a violent black man and this is what hurt the film at Oscar time more than anything else. After reading our discussions here, I wonder if Spielberg got skittish about the lesbian overtones and decided to vamp up the male aggression as an "excuse" for it (as I suggest in below posts). He probably went too far in his effort to make the film more digestible for homophobic moviegoers. (BTW, let's call it as we see it. The ONLY audiences Spielberg would be concerned about here are people who DISLIKE gay activity in whatever form and would take offense.)

Going to that other film I brought up on this thread...

I saw Fried Green Tomatoes on VHS (around 1992) instead of the theater... and had seen The Color Purple several times by then.

I instantly felt déjà vu. Not sure why exactly at first, since these are completely different movies and I doubt one author was "inspired" by the other since the books were published only a few years apart. Yet there were some interesting coincidences and patterns...

-Both feature the devastating loss of a sibling. Key difference here: Idgie's brother Buddy (played by Chris O'Connell) actually gets killed, while Celie's sister Nettie is simply kept separated by her abusive husband for many, many years... and they finally reunite in the finale.

-Celia is a mother who loses her children after they are born but reunites with them in the finale thanks to her sister, who kept tabs on them as a co-parent with their foster parents in Africa. While Idgie does not have children, she co-parents Ruth's son... who is named Buddy after her deceased brother. In a way, her brother and the boy are "spiritually connected" when he has a funeral for his arm... lost on the same train track that claimed the earlier Buddy's life. (Trains are also an interesting metaphor for "transition" in both films. We see Celie start her new and happier life tossing coins to a little girl from a train in a key scene, after leaving her abusive husband.)
-Ruth and Shug are daughters of a preacher, but their relationships with religious and conservative Daddy are different. Ruth is everything "pure" and Shug is "tainted", so the latter must seek reconciliation with her father in order to be truly happy.
-Both have bar scenes with jazz and prohibition liquor in a Depression era South setting (spanning the 1920s-30s). Also they highlight the segregation of the South. One difference is that
the Caucasian leads in FGT treat their black employees almost as if they are family members. Big George doesn't go to jail like poor Oprah Winfrey's character.
-An abusive husband is featured in both films beating Celie/Ruth. The other... Idgie/Shug... rescues her and takes her from the house in a car, although Celie is more self confident than Ruth in declaring her outrage as she leaves. While one husband succeeds in separating sisters for many years, the other attempts to kidnap his son from his mother... only to wind up missing himself.
-I also find it especially amusing how both films have gross, despicable "supporting" characters who are coyly "served" in a despicable matter by those who loathe them. Celie unashamedly spits into a glass of water served to her father-in-law. The one slimy sheriff detective is eager to get either Idgie or Big George arrested for murder and is a constant nuisance, but he greatly enjoys dining on their caf
é's barbecue "pork"... that just may not be... pork.

They really downsized the lesbian theme in this second film, almost to the point that we never see any real physical affection on screen other than Ruth saying she loves Idgie in a key courtroom scene. However the second film still felt more "lesbian-ish" than the earlier one. FGT focuses on ONE relationship that could be, in every way but vocally and physically on screen, a same sex romance. In contrast, TCP is about TWO relationships: Celie/Nettie and Celie/Shug. Shug merely substitutes as the "foster" sister who helps reunite Celie with her real one by finding all of the letters that her abusive husband hid. (I never understood why he didn't simply rip them up. Didn't he realize they would be found later? Go figure. Maybe the fact that he eventually did help reunite the sisters after keeping them apart for many decades, when he went to U.S. Customs or whatever to allow them immigrant entry, suggests he wasn't as cold-hearted as he appeared.)
 
Although both films are included in The Celluloid Closet, every effort is made to turn Fried Green Tomatoes into a "chick friendship" flick, NOT a "chick lovers" flick. I am particularly amused at how the parallel "modern" story is used to "straighten" it all out:  Kathy Bates plays an unhappy housewife who doesn't even like examining her own "womanhood" (i.e. there is a scene in a therapy group where the ladies are asked to take off their undies and use a mirror and she can't go through with it). In other words, she has no interest in female anatomy including her own. However she is INTENSELY fascinated by the older Jessica Tandy's tale of a girlie-girlie relationship spanning the years and this story actually helps improve... in an indirect way... her own heterosexual relationship with her husband. We also have the character of Idgie playing a "tom boy" and wrestling men with no trouble... and Kathy's character "getting some hormones" and slamming her car into another in a parking lot with all of the masculine energy she can muster. It is as if the intended audience for this film is the homophobic woman who wants to be in touch with her "masculine" side but doesn't want to be confused with a lesbian.

One particular scene always stands out for me. Idgie and Ruth have a fight in the kitchen (and, intriguingly, we see key moments between Celie and Nettie, learning to read, and Celie and Shug in kitchens and involving food as well). This scene is quite erotic as they begin smearing stuff on each other and you almost expect them to "consummate" their relationship as in, say, a heterosexual film like 9 1/2 Weeks, but... lo and behold...  a GUY interrupts them asking what they are doing, so they stop and return to "normal" (a word I put in quotes for a reason). Also they make a point of having Idgie more upset about her brother's death as a child than with Ruth's slow death by cancer (although one could compare it to an AIDS death scene in something like Longtime Companion), even though we have seen how close their relationship has evolved over time.
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A couple random thoughts on this film...

 

I remember seeing The Color Purple in the theater in early 1986 when I was a senior in high school. (Revealing my true age here.) Surprisingly the famous kiss didn't seem to be that big of a deal at the time. Three possible reasons...

1.) I had seen similar scenes in a couple earlier "mainstream" films by that time (and some like The Hunger went a lot further) and I suspect others in that same theater did too. My memory isn't great, but I don't recall any of the gasps I distinctly remember later during The Crying Game and Brokeback Mountain (even though those films are rather innocent in hindsight). During the AIDS-paranoid Reagan years, lesbianism wasn't that big of a deal compared to gay MALE activity... even kissing.

2.) It could also be that Spielberg softened its "shock" value by having both ladies discuss in depth their heterosexual activity with a man, suggesting that they were still OK doing what was considered "normal" by any homophobic straight movie viewers. The only weird part about this was that they were discussing the same man.

3.) Shug even says she enjoys it with HIM even if Celie simply feels abused by HIM. Later Shug marries a man and we see no further intimacy with Celie beyond the friendship level. This reminded me... at least on a subconscious level... of an episode of Golden Girls on TV that I saw roughly 9-10 months later with Blanche (reminding me of Shug's comments) saying "a man has so much more to offer, you know what I mean, Dorothy?"

 

 

Most of the controversy that I remember with The Color Purple had to do with Danny Glover's characterization of a violent black man and this is what hurt the film at Oscar time more than anything else. After reading our discussions here, I wonder if Spielberg got skittish about the lesbian overtones and decided to vamp up the male aggression as an "excuse" for it (as I suggest in below posts). He probably went too far in his effort to make the film more digestible for homophobic moviegoers. (BTW, let's call it as we see it. The ONLY audiences Spielberg would be concerned about here are people who DISLIKE gay activity in whatever form and would take offense.)

 

Going to that other film I brought up on this thread...

 

I saw Fried Green Tomatoes on VHS (around 1992) instead of the theater... and had seen The Color Purple several times by then.

 

I instantly felt déjà vu. Not sure why exactly at first, since these are completely different movies and I doubt one author was "inspired" by the other since the books were published only a few years apart. Yet there were some interesting coincidences and patterns...

 

-Both feature the devastating loss of a sibling. Key difference here: Idgie's brother Buddy (played by Chris O'Connell) actually gets killed, while Celie's sister Nettie is simply kept separated by her abusive husband for many, many years... and they finally reunite in the finale.

-Celia is a mother who loses her children after they are born but reunites with them in the finale thanks to her sister, who kept tabs on them as a co-parent with their foster parents in Africa. While Idgie does not have children, she co-parents Ruth's son... who is named Buddy after her deceased brother. In a way, her brother and the boy are "spiritually connected" when he has a funeral for his arm... lost on the same train track that claimed the earlier Buddy's life. (Trains are also an interesting metaphor for "transition" in both films. We see Celie start her new and happier life tossing coins to a little girl from a train in a key scene, after leaving her abusive husband.)

-Ruth and Shug are daughters of a preacher, but their relationships with religious and conservative Daddy are different. Ruth is everything "pure" and Shug is "tainted", so the latter must seek reconciliation with her father in order to be truly happy.

-Both have bar scenes with jazz and prohibition liquor in a Depression era South setting (spanning the 1920s-30s). Also they highlight the segregation of the South. One difference is that the Caucasian leads in FGT treat their black employees almost as if they are family members. Big George doesn't go to jail like poor Oprah Winfrey's character.

-An abusive husband is featured in both films beating Celie/Ruth. The other... Idgie/Shug... rescues her and takes her from the house in a car, although Celie is more self confident than Ruth in declaring her outrage as she leaves. While one husband succeeds in separating sisters for many years, the other attempts to kidnap his son from his mother... only to wind up missing himself.

-I also find it especially amusing how both films have gross, despicable "supporting" characters who are coyly "served" in a despicable matter by those who loathe them. Celie unashamedly spits into a glass of water served to her father-in-law. The one slimy sheriff detective is eager to get either Idgie or Big George arrested for murder and is a constant nuisance, but he greatly enjoys dining on their café's barbecue "pork"... that just may not be... pork.

 

They really downsized the lesbian theme in this second film, almost to the point that we never see any real physical affection on screen other than Ruth saying she loves Idgie in a key courtroom scene. However the second film still felt more "lesbian-ish" than the earlier one. FGT focuses on ONE relationship that could be, in every way but vocally and physically on screen, a same sex romance. In contrast, TCP is about TWO relationships: Celie/Nettie and Celie/Shug. Shug merely substitutes as the "foster" sister who helps reunite Celie with her real one by finding all of the letters that her abusive husband hid. (I never understood why he didn't simply rip them up. Didn't he realize they would be found later? Go figure. Maybe the fact that he eventually did help reunite the sisters after keeping them apart for many decades, when he went to U.S. Customs or whatever to allow them immigrant entry, suggests he wasn't as cold-hearted as he appeared.)

 

Although both films are included in The Celluloid Closet, every effort is made to turn Fried Green Tomatoes into a "chick friendship" flick, NOT a "chick lovers" flick. I am particularly amused at how the parallel "modern" story is used to "straighten" it all out:  Kathy Bates plays an unhappy housewife who doesn't even like examining her own "womanhood" (i.e. there is a scene in a therapy group where the ladies are asked to take off their undies and use a mirror and she can't go through with it). In other words, she has no interest in female anatomy including her own. However she is INTENSELY fascinated by the older Jessica Tandy's tale of a girlie-girlie relationship spanning the years and this story actually helps improve... in an indirect way... her own heterosexual relationship with her husband. We also have the character of Idgie playing a "tom boy" and wrestling men with no trouble... and Kathy's character "getting some hormones" and slamming her car into another in a parking lot with all of the masculine energy she can muster. It is as if the intended audience for this film is the homophobic woman who wants to be in touch with her "masculine" side but doesn't want to be confused with a lesbian.

 

One particular scene always stands out for me. Idgie and Ruth have a fight in the kitchen (and, intriguingly, we see key moments between Celie and Nettie, learning to read, and Celie and Shug in kitchens and involving food as well). This scene is quite erotic as they begin smearing stuff on each other and you almost expect them to "consummate" their relationship as in, say, a heterosexual film like 9 1/2 Weeks, but... lo and behold...  a GUY interrupts them asking what they are doing, so they stop and return to "normal" (a word I put in quotes for a reason). Also they make a point of having Idgie more upset about her brother's death as a child than with Ruth's slow death by cancer (although one could compare it to an AIDS death scene in something like Longtime Companion), even though we have seen how close their relationship has evolved over time.

Maybe the reason for the downsizing of the lesbian themes have to do with playing to a supposedly heterosexual audience. 

 

The first time I saw Fried Green Tomatoes was at a Gay/Straight Alliance meeting in high school, because the film has a "cult" following in the gay community. As out as I am as bisexual, I didn't really do much in the Gay/Straight Alliance because I, at that point, lived to prove stereotypes wrong and while there were many members in that high school organization who weren't stereotypes, the president of the organization (whom I also knew in my school's theatre department and productions henceforth) was...how do I say? Bravo gay. Like gay enough to appease to heterosexual's narrow images of what gay men are by resembling and talking like he was ready to dress a straight guy on Bravo for ratings. I now feel bad that I had those feelings towards him, because they were mostly my own fears of identity inadequacy talking, but I didn't feel comfortable with an Uncle Tom- type character in my gaydar. 

 

Anyway, in college I did see The Color Purple for my Womanism/Feminism class, and I felt nervous then to breach the subject of Celie and Shug. My impressions of them at academic viewing was "Oh, Mister is Shug's beard." "Husband #1 is her beard." It's not like she didn't stop loving Celie, nor Celie her. I was surprised to see Mister and Celie play coy by pretending they both had colds, and to see Mister not pick up on that, when he wanted to control every part of her. Maybe he didn't pick up because he didn't care enough to. 

 

I think we also have to consider that this film was made in 1980s, and one scene should do it, and since Spielberg did want mass distribution, better compromise lesbian love than a character based in the extremities of patriarchy regardless of skin color. While African-American men still have to prove to white men that they are in fact men, Alice Walker wrote this story originally to awaken that women of color can confront patriarchy too, and have done so. While I understand the image consciousness of those who protested Mister, Harpo, and Mister's father, I also see that an African-American woman wrote the story, and while the majority of African-American men aren't physically violent, the projected image, unless given dimension, is not something to be concerned about. Danny Glover did give dimension to Mister, and Mister is not a two-dimensional stereotype. His weakness is evident in the last scenes he is in the movie. 

 

Still, it's amazing what you can see when you look deeper. Or, to quote the film in question, "I think it **** God off to walk by the color purple in a field, and not notice it." 

Edited by TCMModerator1
Edited for Language

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Well... ha ha!... if we believe the ol' Kinsey reports of the 1940s-50s, you and Shug (who still enjoyed men even though she liked Celie) are actually part of the "majority". According to those published charts, only a small percentage of people are completely heterosexual or homosexual. Most tend to be somewhere in-between, being attracted to individual humans and body-to-body experiences regardless of gender. Religion, family pressure, social environment and politics have always forced people to be completely heterosexual whether they are programmed to be or not. (After all, the children must keep popping out on the assembly line so that we can keep our military well equipped for all of the wars we must fight.)

 

Not until gay liberation in the 1970s and, for a great many a LOT later... like... only this past decade or so, have people been allowed to operate according to their real desires. This is why so many gay men in their 40s-80s today were originally married to women and had children before divorcing and starting a new life with other men at an older age. (Of course, our beloved Republican Party and their "evangelical" voters are working very, very, VERY hard to move this country backward to the "good ol' days" as they see it.)

 

Going back to the movie, I never understood that scene of the two acting like they had a cold. However, the author says in an audio clip that you can hear on wikipedia's article of the movie many of her book details did not wind up in the edited-down film and you can see some "gaps" in the storyline.

 

For me, the only conflicting business was Mister keeping all of those Nettie letters so that Shug and Celie would eventually find them, instead of using the paper shredder to remove their evidence. It didn't even look like he was reading them himself, so why save them?

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Well... ha ha!... if we believe the ol' Kinsey reports of the 1940s-50s, you and Shug (who still enjoyed men even though she liked Celie) are actually part of the "majority". According to those published charts, only a small percentage of people are completely heterosexual or homosexual. Most tend to be somewhere in-between, being attracted to individual humans and body-to-body experiences regardless of gender. Religion, family pressure, social environment and politics have always forced people to be completely heterosexual whether they are programmed to be or not. (After all, the children must keep popping out on the assembly line so that we can keep our military well equipped for all of the wars we must fight.)

 

Not until gay liberation in the 1970s and, for a great many a LOT later... like... only this past decade or so, have people been allowed to operate according to their real desires. This is why so many gay men in their 40s-80s today were originally married to women and had children before divorcing and starting a new life with other men at an older age. (Of course, our beloved Republican Party and their "evangelical" voters are working very, very, VERY hard to move this country backward to the "good ol' days" as they see it.)

 

Going back to the movie, I never understood that scene of the two acting like they had a cold. However, the author says in an audio clip that you can hear on wikipedia's article of the movie many of her book details did not wind up in the edited-down film and you can see some "gaps" in the storyline.

 

For me, the only conflicting business was Mister keeping all of those Nettie letters so that Shug and Celie would eventually find them, instead of using the paper shredder to remove their evidence. It didn't even look like he was reading them himself, so why save them?

Power. Mister thought Celie was too dumb to look, and probably told her that if he caught her in his closet, he would hurt her. 

 

Although, the fact that Celie and Shug found those letters in the closet, is interesting considering their relationship. 

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