This Movie Changed Me

The Color Purple

Danez Smith

Last Updated

February 9, 2021

The Color Purple is about the traumas and triumphs of a Black woman named Celie. Set in the Jim Crow South, the story radically centers complicated relationships between Black people, even as whiteness and racism loom in the background. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s classic novel was released in 1985. Both tellings have been beloved companions to Danez Smith, a queer writer and performer. Smith says Walker’s story helped them embrace the messiness of life; “to let life exist best within that brilliant complication that lives somewhere between the joy and pain of a single experience.”


Image of Danez Smith

Danez Smith is a Black, queer, HIV-positive writer and performer from St. Paul, Minnesota. They are the author of Homie and Don’t Call Us Dead, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.


Lily Percy, host: Hello, fellow movie fans. I’m Lily Percy, and I’ll be your guide this week as I talk with Danez Smith about the movie that changed them, The Color Purple. If you haven’t seen it, don’t worry. We’re gonna give you all of the details you need to follow along.

[music: “Nettie Teaches Celie” by Quincy Jones]

When I think about The Color Purple — the movie, I should say, and not just Alice Walker’s book — I think about two sisters laughing and playing, enjoying themselves in a field full of purple flowers, completely intoxicated by each other’s company and disregarding the world around them.

[music: “Nettie Teaches Celie” by Quincy Jones]

When Roger Ebert wrote his review in 1985 of The Color Purple, he started it by saying: “There is a moment in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple when a woman named Celie smiles and smiles and smiles. That was the moment when I knew this movie was going to be as good as it seemed, was going to keep the promise it made by daring to tell Celie’s story. It is not a story that would seem easily suited to the movies.”

Ebert was so right. When you read Alice Walker’s book, The Color Purple, it’s hard to imagine that it could ever really thoughtfully and truly be portrayed in a movie, and yet that’s what Spielberg did, in bringing that story to life — the story of Celie and her sister Nettie, of Mister, of Sofia, and of Shug — but most importantly, the story of this Black woman who lived her life fully and imperfectly and truly, just all to herself.

[excerpt: The Color Purple]

The movie begins in the early 1900s in the Jim Crow South, and that’s where we meet Celie as a young girl. We see her playing with her sister, really relishing those childhood moments and creating this bubble that protects them from the violence and the hatred and the racism outside of their world. And as we see Celie grow, we start to notice that a lot of these things that really sustained her in childhood are the things that are going to sustain her in the rest of her life. Even as she’s sold into a marriage with Mister, played by Danny Glover, Celie continues to rely on the love of her sister and the love that she created for herself against all odds, that really stems from this resilience that she has cultivated through letter-writing to God, through reading, and through just the struggle and surviving the struggle.

[excerpt: The Color Purple]

One of the things that I love the most about The Color Purple is that it is entirely about women. Men are supporting characters in this movie and in Alice Walker’s book. Truly, they are there to serve the women. And even though the men are perpetrators of horrible crimes against these women, they’re not the point of the story. The story is really about Celie, played by Whoopi Goldberg, Shug, played by Margaret Avery, and Sofia, played by Oprah Winfrey — all these amazing women who are able to shine, regardless of what the world throws at them.

One of the most interesting relationships is that between Celie and Shug. It’s a romantic relationship and one that is explored far more deeply in Alice Walker’s book. But in the movie we see these beautiful, intimate moments between Shug and Celie that show that beauty lies even in the most cruel of circumstances, and that beauty is really theirs to hold.

[excerpt: The Color Purple]

The Color Purple, both the movie and the book by Alice Walker, is at the heart and center of Danez Smith’s work. Their books of poetry are powerful and speak of messy, complicated truths, the same way that the story in The Color Purple does. Danez Smith is a Black, queer, HIV-positive writer and performer from St. Paul, Minnesota. And one of the things that Danez was really struck by, when they watched The Color Purple, was the fact that it was the first time that they were watching a Black woman from beginning to end, that they were seeing this Black woman’s life — their whole life — on screen.

[music: “My Heart (Will Always Lead Me Back to You)” by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five]

Percy: I want you to travel back in time with me for a second. I want you to close your eyes, and I want you to think about the first time that you saw The Color Purple — who you were with, how old you were, how it made you feel — and I’m gonna look at the clock for ten seconds, and I’ll chime back in when the ten seconds are up.

So tell me what memories came up for you.

Danez Smith: Oh, I just thought about being in my mom’s room, where I watched so many movies when I was a kid. Luckily, my mom was a single mom, so we had like a one-on-one relationship. And I was an only child. She really didn’t like kids’ movies, so I watched all her favorite movies with her, stuff I was probably a little bit too young for, at an early age. [laughs] I didn’t even know how old I was, because it feels like I’ve been watching The Color Purple my whole life. That’s one of my mom’s favorite movies, and it’s my favorite movie. And I actually just watched it with her again, for this, this weekend.

Percy: Oh my God! Really? That’s so cool!

Smith: [laughs] I told her, I was like, “I have to watch The Color Purple for this interview. Do you want to watch it with me?” And she said, “Yeah, come over.” And so we just watched The Color Purple.

Percy: Oh my God. So when you watched it again with her, did you have a little ritual? Did you have food — what did you do?

Smith: We had wine; we sat on the couch; her husband, who was also new to the watching experience, was there as well, and we talked the whole way through, like Black people who have seen a movie a thousand times, or for the first time. And it felt right. And it feels like, of course I’m watching The Color Purple with my mom, the first person who I ever watched this with, the person who showed me the book, the person who, I feel like, I’ve always connected to the story. We cry on the same parts. And so watching the film feels just as right as hanging out with my mother, I guess, and so it was the perfect way to watch it. And I feel like she’s always been my watching buddy for that one.

[excerpt: The Color Purple]

Percy: I remember in an interview, you talked about you had always, like you said, grown up with this movie, and you can’t remember, really, a time where it wasn’t around, but that the book really brought this whole other layer to understanding the characters in the movie. When did you read the book?

Smith: When I was probably a teenager; probably 14, 15, I want to say. And I had never thought to pick up the book, because I knew the movie so well. And the book was just tucked in a little shelf we had downstairs that kind of was for forgotten books in the house. My mom was an avid reader.

And one day, I picked it up and just thought I was gonna see, basically, what I saw in the film, and I was amazed at how different it was; how queer it was; how rich it was; the form of the letters that you lose in the movie, a little bit. And it was so interesting to see. I guess, for me, I think that’s the first time maybe Spielberg’s hand was illuminated a little bit, in the movie. Because it feels like such a Black classic, to me; and it is. I think it is a Black film, at the end of the day.

Percy: I completely felt that way, watching it now. I watched the movie for the first time, as a teenager. And then I read the book, and I had the same experience, where I was like, “Where’s the sex?” [laughs] It’s not in the movie at all.

But it’s interesting, knowing what I know about Steven Spielberg, sex scenes aren’t really the thing that he does. He often does the right-up-until-then, or more of a love scene. And the thing that stood out to me watching it this time was actually how — there’s music that he uses all throughout the movie, that sometimes can be really to underscore an emotion and hit you over the head with, OK, this is what we’re feeling right now.


But the thing that I love that he did with the scene between Celie and Shug, when Shug dresses her up and she asks Celie to smile: There’s no music. There was a record player, playing in the background, and then all we hear are the crickets.

[excerpt: The Color Purple]

And you’re just so present to the two of them. And then I thought, OK, this is kind of him showing us that intimacy, that sexuality. This is as close as we’re gonna get to a sex scene in this movie. [laughs]

Smith: As close. And then that’s the crazy part, when you read the book, because then you’re like, oh, wow, they were whole lesbians. [laughs]

Percy: [laughs] Exactly.

Smith: There were queer things going on. And I wonder — I don’t know, Hollywood maybe just wasn’t ready for that at the time, but I think not only do you lose the queerness, in the translation from book to film, I think one of the things I feel most cheated out of is the complicated, redemptive arc between Celie and Mister that happens later in the book. It’s such an easy out, to make Mister the clean villain. And let’s be clear, if there is a villain in the book, Mister should be a nominee. But I feel like — I guess the older I get, the more tenderness I have towards villains and characters, in books and stories like that.

I think about Toni Morrison’s work — and I was thinking about this, watching The Color Purple; I was brought to Morrison. I was just thinking about what it means to tell Black stories; about stories in which, even in times where racism or where, we can say, whiteness in America still looms in the background of these stories — in the mailman, in the shopkeepers, in Miss Millie, in all these folks — The Color Purple, at the end of the day, is about the relationships between Black folks.

And I think, when I have that lens, and when I think about even folks in my own family — I guess I’m saying that that film helps me, or maybe looking at my family helps me, have tenderness for those characters. And Mister is — what’s happening to him? What happened to Mister’s father to make him raise Mister like that? What happened to all these men that are doing all these wrongs to these women in this movie, right? What makes Shug kind of a dangerous character to anybody that loves her? Because I think she’s allowed to be this wild, free manifestation of love and freedom and carefree and, “Oh, I’m Shug, and of course, I’m sex, and I’m here to liberate you,” but she ends up scarring Celie in the process, in that story.

But also, you’re able to say, these are Black people making it through, the only way they know how. And of course, they hurt each other. And of course — I think the book does it the best — they found ways to love each other through that hurt that the world sometimes made them do, and the hurt that they chose to do themselves.

[excerpt: The Color Purple]

Percy: That reminds me of something that you said in Tin House. They asked you, if you could correspond with any fictional character through letter writing, who would it be? And you picked Celie. And I just loved what you said, though. You said, “Because her letters to God and her sister are such vital and holy texts to me. I would love to be her pen pal and to help her plot on ways to win over women and bury her no-good husband.” [laughs]

Tell me a little bit about what Celie means to you and why you love her character so much.

Smith: I think Celie reminds me of so many women in my family who found each other and who maybe found themselves — and hopefully, and probably later; I think that’s the thing about Celie, is that her freedom comes late. And I’ve seen that with so many women in my family, where they find themselves, after living under and for these men for so long, with these multiplying and eighty-eleven kids running around them.

But Celie, I just flat-out see my grandmother, and people who carved out tenderness while living in these complicated homes. Celie was always just so beautiful to me. I was just saying that to my mom; I was like, oh, it’s weird that they try to cast Celie as the ugly girl in this whole film, because I love Whoopi Goldberg’s face in that movie. Oh!

Percy: Yes! Exactly. She’s played by Whoopi Goldberg, and she’s so beautiful. And especially when she smiles, it lights up the whole screen. I don’t understand it.

Smith: Yes. And I think I’m always gonna cheer for the person who had to learn how to smile. And I’m gonna cheer for her smile all the way through. And that’s why I cry every time in that film, even — the two parts I cry the most are the last ten minutes; it’s, “God is trying to tell you something,” which is such a release. But there’s that bitter, bitter moment where Celie can’t be happy for Shug, because she still wants her little something, her little return. And then we finally get her and her sister in the field, and of course, then it’s the credits, and you’re crying. Every time. I’m crying right now. [laughs]

Percy: [laughs] It’s so powerful.

Smith: And I think that because Celie, maybe, for me, was the first type of story where you get to see a character all the way through; where you get to love somebody’s whole life — I think that’s why. And I think I love those type of stories. Even when I’m going to my grandparents’ and my uncle’s and stuff like that, the way they tell their stories, even though I wasn’t there, I get to love their whole life a little bit.

And I love that type — I think that’s what I love, is I feel like The Color Purple, for me, maybe captures stories — stories that have existed in my family for centuries. And I get that glimpse into the lives of people I’ve loved, that I just wasn’t there to get to imagine or take part in

Percy: And one of the things I love about the movie is the fact that there’s a way in which the story could’ve been told of her as the victim all throughout, but she’s not. Like you said, she is learning about herself all throughout, and she is always true to herself. She always embodies love.

Smith: And she learns, when she messes up.

Percy: Yes! She learns when she messes up; exactly, which she does — mess up.

Smith: She learns. She does mess up, right? She tells Harpo to beat Sofia.

Percy: Well, that scene in particular stood out to me this time, because — I don’t think I had realized the line that Sofia says to her. She says, “If you keep on advising him,” essentially, “he’s gonna be a dead son-in-law.” She tells Celie that. But then Celie says, “This life be over soon. Heaven lasts always.” And then Sofia says, “Girl, you better bash Mister’s head open and think about heaven later” — which I laughed about at first, and then I was like, ¡Así es! That’s the truth right there. There’s so much truth, too, in all of the imperfections that are shown in the movie. And then the dialogue — the dialogue, this time around watching it, it struck me as there’s not just humor and sadness; there’s just so much truth in it.

Smith: Yeah, there is. I mean, that is the sort of blues note of The Color Purple, is that everything is — the good is tinged with the sad of it, and the sad always finds its way to jubilee or to some type of joy, some type of release, some type of desire. I think the characters are always or never in crisis; [laughs] they sway in and out of it, right?

And we see the long narrative. How powerful is it, the scene you just froze? “You better bash Mister’s head in and think on heaven later.” It’s probably, chronologically, thirty years after that, maybe, or it’s a long time, or twenty-some years after that, where Celie’s holding that blade over Mister’s neck, with Shug making sure she doesn’t actually cut him. It takes that many years for that note to finally sink in and for Celie to reach that breaking point.

[excerpt: The Color Purple]

We see how long a feeling, how long a prayer, how long a survival can last in that way. And of course, then, it makes the feelings messy. It makes the story complicated. It can never be clean, as we want it to be.

I think the movie — and I think we’ve talked about this a couple times — the movie definitely shines that up a little bit and makes it a little cleaner, but I think Alice Walker wrote such a story that that’s why, even as clean as Hollywood can try to make it, it’s still a messy truth.

Percy: You know, Danez, I feel like everything you just said encapsulates your writing, because when I read your poetry, I feel like that’s what you do. You tell the truth about sex, about longing, about intimacy, about pain, about racism. You just speak so many truths, in the way that you talked about the blues as it’s shown in the movie. Does that resonate at all with you? Because when I read your poetry, I feel the same way.

Smith: Yeah, I think part of the prevailing thought in my poems is, everything is gonna be true at once. [laughs]

Percy: [laughs] Just like life: All the feelings, all the time.

Smith: Exactly. “How are you?” is a very complicated question, [laughs] because it’s just like, do you want to hear about the ways in which my life is blessed and about the ways my life is cursed and the ways my life is working itself out? And I think, to invite that type of messiness to the poems, it’s not an invention of mine. I think that’s the work that I’ve found most compelling, when I find it other places. And so I follow that note that people like Alice Walker have laid out, to embrace that high-low/everything feeling of life and to let life exist best within that brilliant complication that lives somewhere between the joy and pain of a single experience, or of a multitude of experiences, and to let that life then be transformed by the lives around it.

That’s what Celie’s doing the whole time. Every woman she meets, every person she encounters transforms her life in so many ways, and I think that’s also what I’m trying to do in poems a little bit — both, I think, in the poems too, by trying to talk about that intimacy and how we get through this together and amongst each other, and also, I guess, how I approach being a reader too is that I’m trying to read and be transformed by the writers that I’m reading right now. And that also is a kind of intimacy and love and community-making, too, to say that, hey, this is whose work I move through that has refigured me, and who I have to encounter my own work in new ways, too.

Percy: I’d love for you — if you feel like it, if you feel inspired — to read, actually, a poem that we talked about before we started recording, because it reminded me of Celie so much: “waiting on you to die so I can be myself.”

Smith: I will totally read that poem. This was a hard one to write. It took a long time. It took years.

“waiting on you to die so I can be myself”:

a thousand years of daughters, then me.
what else could i have learned to be?

girl after girl after giving herself to herself
one long ring-shout name, monarchy of copper

& coal shoulders. the body too is a garment.
i learned this best from the snake angulating

out of her pork-rind dress. i crawl out of myself
into myself, take refuge where i flee.

once, i snatched my heart out like a track
& found not a heart, but two girls forever

playing slide on the porch in my chest.
who knows how they keep count

they could be a single girl doubled
& joined at the hands. i’m stalling.

i want to say something without saying it
but there’s no time. i’m waiting for a few folks

i love dearly to die so i can be myself.
please don’t make me say who.

bitch, the garments i’d buy if my baby
wasn’t alive. if they woke up at their wake

they might not recognize that woman
in the front making all that noise.

Percy: That was beautiful. Thank you.

Smith: Whoo. Thank you.

Percy: So I know you said this took you years to write, and I don’t know that you had Celie or anything from The Color Purple in mind. But reading your poetry alongside watching this movie, this poem just really — it stood out to me, especially when you talk about “two girls forever / playing slide on a porch in my chest,” and I think about Celie and Nettie, the two sisters at the core of this movie.

Smith: I don’t think I had them in mind, but there are lessons from them in that poem. I think, even in the writing of it — I wrote that poem so many times, because I had to get it right, and it’s a poem I don’t take lightly. And so everything about it had to be perfect, because it’s trying to say a very complicated thing about people I love very, very, very much. And it’s also trying to not say it, at the same time. And I think about revision; I think about how many times Nettie had to write that story down for Celie, how many holidays she wrote down “Me and your children are alive,” how many times she —

Percy: All the letters that Celie never received until years later.

Smith: All the letters she never received. [laughs]

[excerpt: The Color Purple]

And every time, she’s hoping that that’s the letter that gets through. You have to tell that story so many times, and when you do write something so many times, you perfect it and you find new ways into it. You’re different, every time you come to write that. And so, writing that poem over so many times, it went through so many different drafts that I wouldn’t be able to recognize the first poem as this poem, probably. I know I wouldn’t. They’re not even the same words. The only thing that stuck, after a while, was the title.

And I know we learn from that. Toi Derricotte talks about this thing called “the hard poem,” the poem that the poet is always gonna return to over your life, because it’s the story that won’t leave you; oftentimes a wound, a pain, and you revisit the site, every time transformed. And I think about stuff like my grandfather, I think about my diagnosis — these other things that I continue to trouble in my work, and every time with new clarity or with new mystery; with a new set of tools that I’m operating on that time, and the same way Celie took up a long letter writing. She wrote her whole life to God.

And I think part of the brilliant craft of that book is, you see Celie’s syntax, her words, and her thoughts, becoming more complex as she grows. We know Celie’s whole life. And I think it’s that sort of thing that we sometimes know about a poem, for a writer. That poet might’ve worked on that thing — who were they, all the times they returned to that, as that thing transformed? I think that’s what we see, when we come to the work: how they thought about this thing forever. And that’s so beautiful.

Percy: It is. And as you were talking right now I was thinking about how, also, Celie’s view and perception of God changed, throughout. Throughout the movie, you see she no longer views God as a child. At the beginning of the movie, when you see her writing — when you hear her writing God these letters, it’s a very different God that Celie believes in, from the beginning of her life toward the end of her life. And I’m just curious; I know that you grew up, yourself, in a religious family, and I’m curious if there’s anything in this movie that has really challenged your own views of God and how you see them.

Smith: When I look at it, I don’t think of it as a movie about God. And God is so many things in that movie. God is also a weapon. What does Celie’s dad tell her, the second he takes away that baby? “You better not tell nobody but God.”

Percy: “But God,” yep.

Smith: So in this film, God has both been a pen pal and a savior; he’s also been a threat; he’s also been redemption and a bridge. But God — he transforms so much in our lives, and I think maybe, in that way, I’m grateful for The Color Purple for never letting God be a static thing and for letting everybody in this film — I would say everybody in that film, for the most part, probably identifies as a Christian. But they all have these so very different [laughs] relationships to the church and to God.

I think part of the challenge of Christianity, especially when you grow up in it, is you do get sold, for the most part, this monolithic God. And you’re told, “You’re supposed to have your own personal relationship with God,” but I would argue that you’re not supposed to complicate [laughs] what that relationship is too much. And I love that it doesn’t try to evangelize us, in how these characters interact with God.

Percy: No, I agree, it’s more nuanced. I think that’s why I loved — it spoke to me now, as someone who sees God in the joy and the sad of life and these moments that we share together, with each other. I find God in those moments with each other.

[excerpt: The Color People]

Before we started recording and I was telling you that I’d love for you to just recite some of your poems, read some of your poems from your collections, you mentioned that Celie, for you, is so much about imperfection. And I’m just curious if you’d want to talk a little bit more about that. It was in relationship to the poem that I had talked to you about, which is called “the note on the body,” which also spoke to me. But I’m just curious to hear more about that imperfection that resonated with you.

Smith: I think everybody in that story, let’s say — because we’re also talking about the book, too — is so imperfect, is so flawed. And for that, it makes them more beautiful. We were talking about Celie learning from her mistakes. Celie causes Sofia pain indirectly, through Harpo, but she learns from that, and she really grows into the spirit of wanting to treat the folks that are good to her, well. She wanted to take care of the family — and she took care of people that she probably hated their guts, too. Celie raised all them fifty-eleven thousand kids —

Percy: [laughs] The kids with no name, yep.

Smith: [laughs] The kids with no name, she was cooking for all them. She kept Mister’s Black ass alive. But I guess Celie, for me — if there is gonna be a perfect person in The Color Purple, would be Celie. But, you know, it’s that speech at the end: “I may be poor, Black, ugly — but I’m here.”

[excerpt: The Color Purple]

Smith: And I think that’s it. I may not have nada, nothing; I may be the worst thing in the world. But I’m it. I’m here. I exist. And I take that on for Celie. And I think maybe that embrace of, “I’m just here,” lets me also revel in Shug’s imperfection and love the mess out of her messy self. It lets me connect with Sofia. It lets me have tenderness in hindsight, towards Mister and the things he went through.

The poem was written, I think, in a moment where I very much needed to write that poem for my own damn saving.

Percy: For yourself.

Smith: And I have a weird relationship to it, because just from a craft level, I look back at the poem and I see the eighty thousand different things I would do with the poem. And so I shake my head a little bit at it.

But I know that poem has also — a lot of people love that poem, and it’s been there for them, and I think part of what I like in poetry, my own and others’, is space for the imperfect work, for that tender thing that just needed to be said in that time. And I don’t think everything has to reach for [perfection], if it reaches for a true and necessary feeling in that moment of creation. So I try to have, also have some tenderness for my little past self and be like, you know what, girl? It’s not the best poem, but it’s a good poem. It’s all right. [laughs]

All right, I’m gonna read it. Here it go.

“a note on the body”:

your body still your body
your arms still wing
your mouth still a gun

you tragic, misfiring bird

you have all you need to be a hero
don’t save the world, save yourself

you worship too much & you worship too much

when prayer don’t work:        dance, fly, fire

this is your hardest scene
when you think the whole sad thing might end

but you live      oh, you live

everyday you wake you raise the dead

everything you do is a miracle

Percy: Thank you. That’s so beautiful.

The last question I would ask you, I’m really curious, especially knowing that The Color Purple turned 35 this year — and they re-released it in theaters, just to have special screenings for it and emphasize what a powerful movie this has meant, for so many people, but especially the Black community. I’m just curious, for you now, watching this movie with your mom this weekend, is there anything that resonates differently for you? How have you grown with this movie, as you’ve gotten older? The more you’ve watched it, how have you grown, together?

Smith: Wow, hold on. I’m gonna sit with this one for a second.

It’s kind of like how you get to know a thing well. I feel like a master at The Color Purple. [laughs] And I feel like it teaches me about — and so you really learn its choices, too. Like of course, we needed a song right here. Of course, there had to be flowers. Of course, we needed to see Celie and Nettie plotting in the shadows. You know it so well that it starts to make sense of you, right back at you. I don’t know; it’s just my favorite movie, right? [laughs]

Percy: It makes sense back — it makes sense together. The two of you are reflecting each other.

Smith: And every time you’re going back to it, it still lets you know that there’s a feeling. I think I use it to check that I’m still real. When I cry at the same parts, it lets me know that even the old pains are worth turning over. I think it lets you live with your ghosts better. It lets you live with your own traumas and triumphs a little bit better, when you still feel touched by that thing. The fact that The Color Purple still moves me to tears, the same way it did — that I don’t know if it did the first time; I think I was probably too young to know to cry — but it feels like [laughs] I’ve been crying at this movie my whole life.

And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to get to bask in this ultimate human thing, when I read and when I watch and when I listen to that soundtrack. Everything about all of its manifestations — play, movie, book — all standing on Walker’s wonderful story that teaches us so much about how to make a good story, how to write good work, how to make a thing that can move people, even when it moves across genres — that’s such a powerful thing. She wrote the crap out that book. [laughs]

Percy: Yes, yes!

Smith: She wrote the crap out that book. It has made so much money and moved so many people. What a good, good thing. And amen for it. And so I just feel — I don’t even know if I done grown with it. I’m probably still rising to it. It’s one of those things where it is a God piece of art for me. It’s on my top five everythings, and it ain’t number two, three, four, or five. [laughs] So, God bless The Color Purple, Alice Walker, even Steven Spielberg, a little bit, for making it into this movie that I watch. It’s the one movie I have downloaded on my computer.

Percy: That says a lot.

Smith: That’s just how I feel about it. That’s how I’ve grown with it. It is like the one permanent thing I’ve decided to have in my life. I ain’t got no man, but I do have The Color Purple.


Percy: Danez Smith is a Black, queer, HIV-positive writer and performer from St. Paul, Minnesota. Their wonderful books of poetry are Homie and Don’t Call Us Dead, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Amblin Entertainment, The Guber-Peters Company, and Warner Brothers produced The Color Purple and the clips you heard in this episode are credited entirely to them. Dreamworks released the movie’s soundtrack, and the incomparable Quincy Jones both co-produced the movie and composed all of its music.


Next time on This Movie Changed Me, I’ll be talking about the breakup classic The Way We Were, starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. You’ve got a week to watch it before our next conversation, and if you’ve never seen it, get ready for the theme song. It will be stuck in your head for weeks.

[music: “Maybe God Is Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’” by Quincy Jones]

The team behind This Movie Changed Me is: Gautam Srikishan, Chris Heagle, Eddie Gonzalez, Lilian Vo, Christiane Wartell, Tony Liu, and Kristin Lin. This podcast is produced by On Being Studios, which is located on Dakota Land. And we also produce other podcasts you might enjoy, like On Being with Krista TippettPoetry Unbound, and Becoming Wise. Find those wherever you like to listen, or visit us at to find out more.

I’m Lily Percy, and as my favorite movie critic, Mark Kermode, says, “Everything will be all right in the end. And if it isn’t all right, it’s not the end.”

[music: “Maybe God Is Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’” by Quincy Jones]