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Steven Spielberg Admits That He Softened Lesbian Sex In "The Color Purple"

by Tambay A. Obenson
December 6, 2011 1:38 PM
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Color Purple

And this should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who's read Alice Walker's original novel... but just in case you haven't... Mr Speilberg says, "yeah, I toned things down, now what?"

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, which I haven't read, and can't find online yet, Speilberg is said to have given an extensive overview of his body of work, including addressing some of the criticism he received from black audiences for his work on The Color Purple.

Here's a sample:

There were certain things in the [lesbian] relationship between Shug Avery and Celie that were very finely detailed in Alice’s book, that I didn’t feel we could get a [PG-13] rating… And I was shy about it. In that sense, perhaps I was the wrong director to acquit some of the more sexually honest encounters between Shug and Celie, because I did soften those. I basically took something that was extremely erotic and very intentional, and I reduced it to a simple kiss. I got a lot of criticism for that.

For that and more... I'm sure most of you have read the book and seen the movie, and will recall the entire ordeal leading up to, and after the film's release in 1985.

This brings up that age-old conversation we've had repeatedly on S&A about whether stories about a particular group of people (whether connected via race, gender, sexual orientation, or some combination of them all) should be told/directed by filmmakers who come from within, or identify with that group.

Asked if he'd change anything if I could do it all over again, Spielberg responded:

I wouldn’t, no. That kiss is consistent with the tonality, from beginning to end, of The Color Purple that I adapted.

If anyone has the latest issue of EW, I'd like to know more of what Speilberg says about the film, if anything.


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  • J Daniels | December 12, 2011 5:14 PMReply

    Seriuosly? Anyone who didn't pick up on the whole lesbian relationship between Shug and Celie is a little slow LOL and we did't need to SEE the fleshy details of sex between them to know it happened.

    I took it as a little like the old days when in movies they'd fade to black for the sex scenes... I thought it was handled with dignity and class and gave their whole relationship a depth that otherwise mayhave been lost if handled any other way and could have made the movie something it was not and taken away from the story, cheapened it... JMHO but cudos to Mr Spielberg, this movie is one of the most magnificent movies of all time. The acting was suberb, the look of the film... I can't see where anything could be improved on, he got it right... all of it! (and Whoopi was seriously robbed of the Best Actress Oscar but that wasn't his fault LOL he was robbed of Best Director too!)

  • urbanauteur | December 7, 2011 6:35 PMReply

    Now will he 'fess up' to his xenophobic excesses in AMISTAD...?

  • CareyCarey | December 7, 2011 10:57 AMReply

    I am riding with the YES crowd. I mean, this movie is in my yearly rotation and it's my ladies all-time favorite. Listen, I've said this several times, I try to keep politics out of my movie watching experience. Consequently I do not care why Spielburg decided to do what he did. I just dit back and enjoy the moments, feelings and experience.

  • James | December 6, 2011 11:59 PMReply

    why did he need to admit it.. anyone that read the book and saw the movie could see that he avoided the lesbian scenes and cut out the 2nd part of Celie and Alberts relationship.. My personal thoughts are that it had nothing to do with rating.. it had to do with the fact that you couldn't make a feature-film with a black lesbian protagonist and hope to win anything. That said, I think the film was beautifully done.. and the collaboration between Alice Walker, Steven Speilberg and Quincy Jones is a treasure.

  • Rasheed | December 6, 2011 11:55 PMReply

    So wait, you think Spielberg made The Color Purple for white audiences?

  • Quentin | December 6, 2011 11:29 PMReply


  • Shawnell Harrison | December 6, 2011 8:15 PMReply

    @Yoshi-Damn,the last few lines of your statement had to be the most stupid shit I have heard this decade.

  • Rasheed | December 6, 2011 8:03 PMReply

    I guess I'll be the sole dissenting voice here... LOL! I've never liked this film. I didn't like it when it was first released, and I liked it even less when I revisited it a couple of years ago. Back in the day, I thought it was because of the whole "negative portrayal of Black men" thing, but something else about the movie bugged me. Something I was unable to articulate. So after watching it again with a more mature pair of eyes, I realized that Spielberg was the wrong choice to direct the movie. Spielberg's one of my favorite directors, but this is him during a much "safer", lightweight period. This is Close Encounters, ET, and Raiders Spielberg. He still needed to grow up a bit cinematically.

    Color Purple comes off too safe to me...even subtly racist in some aspects. We're presented with serious scenes with heavy emotional resonance that are diluted with moments of out of place slapstick humor. Then it turns into a musical towards the end. WTH? Did Spielberg think Black audiences would be unable to handle such heavy subject matter so he inserts broad humor and good ol' gospel music to help us out?

    Now post Schindler, Pvt Ryan, and Munich Spielberg would be a lot better equipped to handle material as provacative and serious as Color Purple.

  • Mario | December 6, 2011 11:02 PM

    Spielberg did not make the movie for black audiences.

  • Scheffee | December 6, 2011 4:58 PMReply

    I was so young when I saw this film I had no idea that what it was at the time.

  • Dankwa Brooks | December 6, 2011 4:32 PMReply

    I agree. It just was a different time. This was the same time that Eddie Murphy said the gay F word like 75 times in 'Raw'. I rewatched it like last year and thought how SO inappropiate that would seem today. Just a different era.

    Plus agree that Spielberg made an excellent film you should read the book anyway for NO book adapted to film is the EXACTLY like its source.

  • JMac | December 6, 2011 6:18 PM

    I remember reading the book in high school years after watching this film to the point of memorization and wondered how the hell they got the movie out of that story. Thought I was reading the wrong book, lol. Inappropriate or not, Raw is still funny as hell.

  • darkan | December 6, 2011 3:05 PMReply

    "The Color Purple" is one of Black Americans most prolific and classic films ever. I dare anyone to sit through it and not feel anything. Steven Spielberg did a great job and more likely better than anyone could during the era he made the film. I applaud him despite the what would have been unnecessary erotic themes in the book not being placed in the film. We got the hint during the scene. Nuff said.

  • MF | December 6, 2011 3:57 PM

    Just happened to have re-watched it on Saturday for audition research and have to say that I agree with Darkan. The movie is quite affecting and moving even after (gulp!) 27 years... most films I'm done with by the time the credits roll.

  • Yoshi | December 6, 2011 2:42 PMReply

    I feel that the director's aesthetic views are more important than their racial identity. I just recently watched "5 Feet High and Rising" as well as "Raising Victor Vargas" for a class about a month ago. Even though I'm not a Dominican-American I still would not have guessed that the director was Italian American. Also there are African Americans with aesthetic views that I disagree with and would prefer they not try to adapt any book of fiction about African Americans into film. But still I do think that it's important to still have institutions in film and literature where African Americans or any other group have an equal share of power and are allowed to their own stories.

  • mf | December 6, 2011 3:54 PM


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