Oscars 2024: Danielle Brooks is Brilliant as a Foil in The Color Purple

The actress has been nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for her role in The Color Purple.
Oscars 2024: Danielle Brooks is Brilliant as a Foil in The Color Purple
Oscars 2024: Danielle Brooks is Brilliant as a Foil in The Color Purple

In the 2023 The Color Purple — a musical directed by Blitz Bazawule, and based on Alice Walker’s 1982 novel of the same name — we have Sofia (Danielle Brooks) kick open a door, and  impetuously tell a bar owner that she only reads what she likes when he points to a sign disclosing women are not allowed inside the premises. (This is the second time Brooks is playing Sofia — she was also  part of the 2015 Broadway revival by John Doyle.) With her beau Harpo (Corey Hawkins) on her heels, she declares to his father (Colman Domingo) at the establishment that she is pregnant with his son’s child, and the two have decided they are to be wed. The father’s nasty, and condescending rebukes, instead of cutting at her self-esteem, stir her pride and self-belief in motion. With a casual wink — it almost borders on arrogance — she tells her beau to not make her wait for too long as he obligatorily stays back for his father’s scolding. (Brooks, who has also had an almost decade-long relationship with the character, asked Blitz Bazawule if she could add some flourishing touches — Kicking the door open was the actress’ idea.) 

The Color Purple is about Celie (Fantasia Burrino), whose submissiveness is an acquired survival trait within brutally punishing setups. Between an abusive paternal figure, and a cruel husband, she has internalised a malleability that works at everyone else’s behest. Sofia’s vitality, her sharp clarity, a fantastic boldness that wants to mould her circumstances into her own moral framework is an eclectic contrast to Celie. Her witticism, and brave teasing, can easily fall into the trope of the ‘bold woman’ or a ‘badass woman’, but Brooks imbues her Sofia with a vast range that resists reductive categorisations. 

The latest adaptation of Walker’s book can feel glossy; an artifice characterises some of the scenes. But Brooks punctures this artifice whenever she barrels into the frame, making herself known and turning the sun-soaked world upside down with copious amounts of passion. 

The tragedy that would visit Sofia in the second half of the film seems gratuitous and retributive, especially when you see her vitality get eaten by systemic forces — her clarity is feeble against the law. Brooks lends Sofia’s misfortune a deep anguish. But, she is not (just) a cautionary tale, or someone who simply exists in the narrative to pronounce how Celie is claiming her agency at this point. Through Brooks’ reviving capability, you are acutely aware of the dimensions to her person at all times. 

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