Nilah Ate the Blog

Illustration, books, and baking… probably

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Confession: Before Christmas Day, I’d never seen The Color Purple.

A still from the 2023 film The Color Purple. Celie, in a red dress, is front and center in a choreographed song and dance sequence.
The Color Purple, 2023

I’ve never told anyone. That’s one of those movies that’ll get your Black card revoked if you admit you haven’t seen it.

I just always took it for Important Black Movie. I’ve seen plenty of those in other forms. I assumed I wasn’t really missing out on anything.

My mother, however, has seen The Color Purple in every iteration. I don’t know if she’s read the book, but she’s seen the original 1985 movie and she’s seen it on stage multiple times.

I might have missed the new movie, except someone on some social media platform or other linked an interview in which Gayle King asked Taraji P. Henson about a rumor she’d heard that Taraji was considering leaving the acting profession. And Taraji let loose, expressing her frustration with the industry.

As a Black woman trying to make it in Hollywood, her story stabbed me right through the heart. I already know that Black women at all levels of the industry are experiencing very similar roadblocks and marginalizations. It’s how you know the prejudice in Hollywood is systemic. The model is the same in every discipline, on every level.

Colman Domingo also spoke about his challenges in Hollywood. At the same time that my heart soars to feel seen, to be once again assured that the prejudice is not all in my head and the lack of Black faces in Hollywood are a deliberate choice by gatekeepers, it also hurts to know how prevalent these stories are.

In any case, I was quietly, internally ablaze when my mother texted and asked if I’d like to go see The Color Purple on Christmas Day. I said yes.

And the movie was an unexpected balm. The Color Purple is pretty good, did you know?? Alice Walker did a really good job with that story! And this update was beautifully crafted.

In short, since this post is already longer than I intended, the movie felt like a love letter to Black women. At once the story recognizes the violence and hardship that Black women often face, how life requires us to fight, and yet it does not glorify violence. It gives Black women agency. It shows that there is no one way to be a Black American woman. The women in the story experience pain and sacrifice, but also triumph and independence. It feels like a mythic fairytale written just for us.

I thought, “This is what it looks like when a story loves its Black women,” and that is something we don’t often get to see in Hollywood. In the vast majority of productions, the main story is about other characters, usually men, usually white, and Black women get whatever space is left over. You are hard-pressed to see these huge media companies shine the spotlight on Black women, so I rarely get the experience I did watching The Color Purple: of stepping into an imagined world and feeling loved.

It is just the energy I need going into 2024. A renewal of faith in storytelling as well as a commitment to love Black women in my own work. To not feel self-conscious or self-indulgent about giving us space. To allow us to dominate space, in fact.

As it happens, my next three graphic novels all star Black girls, but I view this as a starting point. Hopefully I will get some other ideas going next year. I am rarely idle; of course, that’s the problem. Too many plates spinning and too little space for more. Alas, I really love chaos, so I’m sure I’ll try to squeeze in an irresponsible number of plates regardless.

In any case. Go see The Color Purple, and I will see you in 2024. Happy New Year!

Nilah is an author and illustrator from the United States.


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