Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Color Purple

Actress Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor Criticizes ‘Sanitized’ Love Story In The Latest Adaptation of ‘The Color Purple’

“People can try to say the story is about sisterhood, but it's a story about Black lesbians. Period.”

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, who played the role of Mama in the 2023 adaptation of The Color Purple, said she was dissatisfied with the way the film depicted the queer love affair between the film’s two main characters.

On  Feb. 16, the acclaimed actress criticized filmmakers for “sanitizing” the romantic relationship between Celie and Shug Avery. Ellis-Taylor was discussing Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Color Purple, first adapted into a film in 1985, with BuzzFeed. 

“The Color Purple is a book about Black lesbians. Whether the choice was made to focus on that or not in the cinematic iterations of The Color Purple, it’s still a movie about Black lesbians,” Ellis-Taylor said.

Celie, the story’s protagonist, is a woman who survives sexual and domestic abuse, mainly at the hands of her husband. Her life changes when she meets Shug Avery, her husband’s lover. Celie is instantly attracted to the other woman, and the pair eventually fall in love.

In the 1985 film adaptation of the book, Celie and Shug’s relationship is briefly implied in a scene where the women share a kiss. But there is no further reference to their romance. The recent version of The Color Purple depicts a more in-depth look into the relationship between Celie (portrayed by singer Fantasia Barrino) and Shug (portrayed by actress Taraji P. Henson). But Ellis-Taylor says it still doesn’t match Alice Walker’s version of the characters. 

“Alice Walker wrote The Color Purple with intention because she was writing about herself. I just want that part of the book to be portrayed in the films with intention instead of being incidental. I want people to walk away from The Color Purple thinking, ‘I just saw a movie about Black lesbians.’ I don’t think that has happened,” she said. 

Ellis-Taylor, who identifies as bisexual, said she would like to see more LGBTQ+ representation in Hollywood. She also told the outlet that she has plans to create a project about Fannie Lou Hamer for which she will highlight the queer activists who supported the activist.