In 2007, Jennifer Hudson dominated awards season for her undeniable portrait of Effie White in the movie musical adaptation of “Dreamgirls.” Her show-stopping performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” had theaters around America erupting in cheers, and she deservedly took home the best supporting Oscar — becoming the first “American Idol” contestant to do so.
Now Fantasia Barrino, the electric singer who beat Hudson as the winner of the third season of “Idol,” is about to headline a movie musical that could be collecting gold statuettes of its own. Barrino stars in Warner Bros.’ “The Color Purple,” releasing in theaters on Christmas, and Oscar voters are sure to take notice.
Barrino is no stranger to playing Celie — she reprises the role she inhabited on Broadway in a 2007 musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s beloved 1982 book. For the movie based on the musical, director Blitz Bazawule brings Barrino back to the role, and she doesn’t disappoint, capturing Celie’s decades-long journey beautifully. Her delivery of the character’s fan-favorite ballad “I’m Here” induces goosebumps. Should Barrino stake her place in the final best actress lineup and win, she would be the second Black woman to capture the Oscar since Halle Berry in 2001 (for “Monster’s Ball”).
“The Color Purple” follows Celie, a Black Southern woman in the early 20th century who is abused by her father and husband. Steven Spielberg directed and produced a movie adaptation starring Whoopi Goldberg as Celie and Oprah Winfrey as her friend Sophia in 1985. The film went on to receive 11 Academy Award nominations, including best picture, but famously came away empty-handed on Oscar night.
But this version of the musical, which Winfrey produced, might be harder for voters to ignore — and it comes from source material that’s already proven to be an awards favorite. In fact, two different actresses have already won the Tony for playing Celie in this musical. The Broadway version picked up 11 Tony nominations in 2006 (and won the award for best actress for LaChanze, who played Celie before Barrino stepped into the role, bringing a box office bump from her “Idol” notoriety). A revival in 2015 earned four Tony nominations and scored two wins, including the trophy for best revival of a musical and best actress for Cynthia Erivo as Celie.
On the big screen, “The Color Purple” has the same magic and magnetism as it did on stage. Bazawule’s version is a cinematic tour-de-force, reminding us of the power of sisterhood and the importance of healing. For this, he has assembled the perfect ensemble including Danielle Brooks as Sofia (a role she played in 2015 stage revival), Taraji P. Henson as Shug Avery, Colman Domingo as Mister, H.E.R. as Squeak, Halle Bailey as Young Nettie, Corey Hawkins as Harpo and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Mama.
Is there room for both Brooks and Henson in the supporting actress race? Brooks is superb, but Henson — nominated for an Oscar in 2009 for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” — lights up the screen as Shug. From sailing down the river in a barge to her rendition of “Push Da Button,” Henson gifts audiences one of her best performances to date.
As for best picture, “The Color Purple” will likely be a contender for the Academy Award’s top prize with its all-star producing team of Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones and Scott Sanders. Spielberg could find himself facing off against Martin Scorsese for”Killers of the Flower Moon.” However, the two legendary filmmakers also joined forces as producers on “Maestro.” So, while they’re competitors, both could land a double nomination in that race.
The film also has Oscars chances with its crafts. Veteran costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck seeks her first-ever nomination. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen takes on his first musical working with a lush palette and sweeping camera that infuses scenes with a rich period look while transitioning into fantastical numbers.
Warner Bros. seeks to dominate the original song category with “Barbie” and “Wonka.” “The Color Purple” will submit two, “Keep It Movin’” and The Dream’s “Superpower (I),” which Barrino performs over the film’s end credits.
While Academy voters have historically embraced movie musicals including last year’s “West Side Story” and “Tick, Tick … Boom!”, the last musical film to take home a best picture Oscar was “Chicago” in 2003, 20 years ago. This version of “The Color Purple” might not get as many nominations as the Spielberg drama, but it’s safe to bet it will end up with more wins.