Why the Hell am I Laughing?
The Color Purple's one liners are used in challenges to revoke folks' black cards. I knew (STILL KNOW) the movie verbatim and sing Shug Avery's "Siiiiiiiistaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah" to my girlfriends because I can. At family gatherings, The Color Purple DVD is lurking somehwere. It's your favorite black family's favorite black family movie.
I'm quick to admit, however, that I was tainted by the movie before I read the book.
I remember following Celie's thoughts and being taken aback. Alice Walker left me breathless. After discussing it with my thesis advisor, the great Stephanie Hankerson, I focused on The Color Purple as my primary text for my senior thesis. Me and Shug had a deep conversation that would change how I viewed the African American woman's narrative. I felt like my paper paid homage to a fellow Georgia girl who had the ovaries to tell it like it T-I is.
Perhaps most striking to me is the relationship between the screen adaptations and the actual plot. A few musings:
-If The Color Purple was really adapted verbatim, it'd be ten hours long and its essence (troubling word, I know) would be lost (Beloved, anyone?)
-The novel's use of language - fluid, gritty, blunt - would make Nana 'nem blush. It would no longer be your favorite black family's favorite black family movie.
-If Mista was shown to be repentant of his actions, Celie's friend, and a damn good knitter, what kinda of propaganda would that be?
When I hear/see people re-enact scenes from the movie, I laugh. But the novel itself has few humorous situations. I wonder if we (myself included) laugh at the movie because its painful or to cope with our own transgressions about black women and sexuality?
Our affection for this movie serves as an investment in maintaining a subversive (hyper)awareness of the suffering narrative that frames the majority of the African American (woman) experience. This awareness fluently manifests itself in popular culture, especially in those contemporary women's narratives that are constructed by a certain dude in a dress. Nearly all of his movies about the dude in a dress playing a matriarch reference a violent scene from The Color Purple and make it funny.
I'm not suggesting that suffering does not exist within the present day black woman's narrative. There is, however, an affinity to bind this sole story to what seems to be a widely unchallenged typecast for representations of black women in a public space.
I titled my musings "The Jail We Laugh In" because I find that serious discussions about The Color Purple OUTSIDE the academy often collapse after a quick "You Tol' Harpo to Beat Me?!"
Where The Color Purple is rich in anecdotes and conversations starters, conversations fall flat in productivity and solutions because its easier just to emptily laugh at a plight instead of work it out.