I read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple before I came out. The relationship between Celie and Shug Avery was something I couldn’t get out of my head, less because of the sexual component than the fact that the intimacy between the two women was deep and life-changing. Sexuality was an expression of caring, not an end in itself.
The relationship felt familiar. And I know that walking through Celie’s experience of considering her own desires and needs for the first time in her life was an impetus for doing it myself. Although a few years passed before I acknowledged my sexual orientation, The Color Purple made me unable to “piss off God” by continuing to ignore the color purple in my life.
Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winner was not just about Celie and Shug, of course. The central characters are poor, uneducated blacks in the post-Civil War South. The book is so raw and graphic and brutally honest that it is one of the most banned books in the U.S.
Walker writes from experience. She was raised in poverty in the cotton fields of Georgia; her parents were sharecroppers. But what her family was lacking materially they made up in spirit, encouraging Walker’s artistic side and appreciation for beauty, even though she kept much of it to herself. And the growth of her art, expressed through fiction, poetry and essays, has led her to be one of our most respected voices for civil rights and women’s issues.
In 1993, Walker collaborated with lesbian filmmaker Pratibha Parmar (Nina’s Heavenly Delights) on the documentary Warrior Marks and the book Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women. The project sparked an international debate on the rituals in Africa that had never before been exposed.
The collaboration also sparked a relationship of mutual respect that led to the Parmar’s latest project, a documentary on Walker herself. The film, Alice Walker — Beauty in Truth, tells the story of Walker’s journey from paper-thin shack to recognition as one of the most important writers of the 20th Century.
Parmar’s production company Kali Films is in the process of filming Beauty in Truth but has no release date in sight yet. We’ll bring details as we get them, of course, and you can keep up with progress by following @alicewalkerfilm.
Walker, btw, has a fabulous blog; she loves the immediacy of the Internet and posts freeform poems quite often. Check it out for a reminder of the joy and vibrancy that carry her through life — and make her a fascinating subject for a documentary.
Are you looking forward to Beauty in Truth? What is your favorite Alice Walker work?