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The Color Purple's Fantasia Barrino on becoming Celie and learning the power of forgiveness

The actress stars alongside Corey Hawkins, Colman Domingo, Danielle Brooks and Taraji P Henson in The Color Purple

Fantasia Barrino arriving at The Color Purple premiere
February 3, 2024
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Stepping into an iconic role is daunting enough, especially in a remake of a multi-Oscar-nominated film that remains as loved today as when it was first released almost four decades ago. But for Fantasia Barrino, the role of Celie in the new big-screen production of The Color Purple also came with bad memories. 

"I played her on Broadway, back in 2007, but it was a tough time for me," said the 39-year-old actress. "It was eight shows a week, I was so young and I was going through a lot personally." 

WATCH: The Color Purple - trailer

This time, however, it was different. "I loved the experience. Celie taught me so much. She loved everybody. She was full of forgiveness and that is what I want to try to be. I carry Celie with me and I hope to make her proud."

Although Oscar glory has eluded her this year, the former American Idol winner has been savouring awards season, especially with a Golden Globe nomination. She lost out to Emma Stone for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, but being a contender was exciting enough. "I don't know how to comprehend what's happening to me," she admitted. 

Fantasia Barrino as Celie Harris-Johnson in The Color Purple© Warner Bros
Fantasia Barrino as Celie Harris-Johnson in The Color Purple

"I actually missed the [nomination] announcement on TV, but my mom and husband told me on the phone. I hung up, I was so shocked."

Fantasia initially turned down the chance to reprise the role of Celie, partly due to the similarities between them – both are survivors of domestic violence who struggled with depression. But director Blitz Bazawule persuaded her. "He allowed me and the audience to see what women go through and that sometimes, we have to imagine ourselves in a different place before we get there."

The star is certainly now in a happy place with husband Kendall Taylor and their daughter Keziah, three in May, together with 22-year-old daughter Zion and 12-year-old son Dallas from previous relationships. While filming, she had a "second" family – her co-stars including Corey Hawkins, Colman Domingo, Danielle Brooks and Taraji P Henson. "I was everyone's biggest fan. I kept having to ask Corey to tell me if I was getting on his nerves because I'm his biggest fan."

The original 1985 film, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, had an impact on her growing up. "I remember seeing it when I was younger and it felt like such a big moment for me and the black community.

Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple (1985)© Getty
The 1985 adaptation starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, had a profound impact on the actress

"I felt like I had a lot in common with Celie, but I never imagined for a second that I would be playing her on Broadway and in a movie. I remember also seeing the Broadway show for the first time and being blown away at how it moved the room. Everyone was crying. It was so powerful and so healing."

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The biggest challenge of playing Celie was learning how to tap dance. "That took a lot of hard hours of practice, practice, practice," Fantasia said. "The singing I was used to, but doing it at 5am or 6am was tough, too."

Fantasia Barrino dancing in The Color Purple© Warner Bros
Fantasia spent hours learning to tap dance for the role

Looking back on the at-times rocky 20 years since she first found fame, Fantasia is grateful for the experience. "I was just 19 when I won American Idol. I didn't know. I didn't know anything and I trusted everyone.

"I've learnt a lot of harsh lessons since about life and love. But I believe everything I went through was necessary to make me the woman I am today."

The Color Purple is currently available to watch in cinemas. 

Report by Katie Ellis. 

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