The upcoming screen version of Broadway's The Color Purple is one month from its December 25 public release, and the industry preview screenings are officially underway. Playbill was lucky enough to attend one of the New York premiere screenings, where members of the company—including actors Fantasia Barrino, Corey Hawkins, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson, director Blitz Bazawule, choreographer Fatima Robinson, and producer Scott Sanders—shared their stories.
It was something of a joyous reunion for the musical's extended family. Broadways best and brightest showed up for the screening, with leading lady Fantasia Barrino spending much of the panel running across the stage to embrace company members from multiple productions of the musical, including the original Broadway cast that Barrino joined to great acclaim in 2007.
"If it hadn't been for y'all, I wouldn't have made it through it!" Barrino exclaimed, pointing out 2007 cast members Natasha Yvette Williams and Alton Fitzgerald White. "You know it! It was hard for me because my life was in shambles, and I was carrying my cross and Celie's cross at the same time, and that was not easy." Tearfully, Barrino walked the audience through her struggles with shouldering the immense trauma Celie undergoes throughout the show, and the responsibility she felt to again assume the role when Sanders came to her.
"You go through tests for testimony. I surrendered and I said 'I'm gonna go back for every young girl that needs to see that somebody sees them. If you can just make it through, keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will be seen.' When going through tough times, we sit and imagine a way out. That's Celie's faith, really."
Danielle Brooks, the actress that plays Sofia in the film (reprising her Tony nominated performance in the 2015 Broadway revival), received a raucous standing ovation upon her entrance, which clearly brought her to tears. "Beautiful moments move quickly, so I'm really trying to take this in. This does not happen all the time."
Once the crowd had settled down, Brooks also took a moment to acknowledge the plethora of artists in the audience that were a part of the original 2005 Broadway production of The Color Purple, prompting another standing ovation on their behalf. As many of the original company members embraced, Brooks shared how that particular cast had changed her life, long before she was directly involved in the musicals history.
"When I was 15, my dad took me to see The Color Purple. At the time, the only two black shows on Broadway were The Lion King and The Color Purple. I saw you. I saw your professionalism, and saw people that looked like me. And you all gave me a clear path. I could suddenly see for myself. This thing that I just dreamed of was in you all. After seeing that, all I knew was I wanted to be a part of this tribe. I wanted to be a part of this community. I wanted to impact someone's life the way y'all impacted mine."
Brooks struggled for many years to find her footing after graduating from Juilliard with her The Color Purple co-star Corey Hawkins, before finally exploding into the mainstream as Taystee in the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black. A series of long ago forged connections and passionate auditions ensued, resulting in Brooks playing the fierce tempered and confident Sofia in the 2015 Broadway revival opposite Cynthia Erivo, with Brooks picking up a Tony nomination. Still, her journey with the show was not done.
As Brooks and Hawkins recounted in the film's companion book Purple Rising, there was no other Sofia for Hawkins than Brooks. When he was approached to play Harpo, Sofia's tender hearted husband, Hawkins had one stipulation: he wanted Brooks playing Sofia. His staunch championing helped get her the role, and now Brooks is receiving almost universal praise in early reviews.
While recounting her decades-long journey with the piece, Brooks was driven to tears as Hawkins clutched her hand. "Because y'all are in my community, I ended up starring in the show that changed my life at 15. And during that show, after getting Tony nominated, I had so much impostor syndrome. I did not feel like I deserved that nomination. I just didn't understand [what] I was feeling in my head. I called out of the show the day after getting that Tony nomination because my fear was so great. And the lyrics of 'Hell No' actually carried me through. Being able to say 'hell no' to my fears every night for a full year, getting to say 'hell no' to this imposter syndrome, to not shining my light. Every time I sing that song, it's a reminder that there's another 15 year old in the audience that needs to see the power living inside of me. And I owed that because y'all did that for me. And now, to share this film with you all, to have Miss Oprah Winfrey pass me the baton, my heart is so full. I am here because of this community, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
The Color Purple debuted on Broadway in 2005. With the movie musical set to release in movie theatres December 25, filmgoers are being encouraged to gift a ticket to family and friends with Color Purple-themed digital and physical gift cards available at Fandango.com.