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‘color purple’ revival cast a homophobe as ms celie. alice wept.

March 23, 2019
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Growing up in South Africa, Black women authors were hard to come by, with the likes of queer icon Alice Walker being that much harder to stumble across. My first foray into the world of The Color Purple was in my 20s, long after Steven Spielberg’s 1985 Oscar-winning rendition. It is this manifestation of Alice Walker’s story that shapes its adaptation and in the pressing and current discussions around representation in our modern time, it’s worth it to note that Spielberg’s choice to omit the queerness in the film adaptation has affected the telling of the story almost 25 years on.

Miss Celie’s stationary odyssey is now making its way to London’s West End in Leicester Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome’s revival of the musical version of The Color Purple. Unfortunately, the titular role was going to be helmed by self-declared homophobe Oluwaseyi Omooba according to The Grio. Upon the announcement of her casting, past social media posts were dug up revealing unrepentant homophobia buried in Christian dogma.

In a disappointing yet understandable addition to the story, Oluwaseyi’s father is a Pastor who allegedly supports conversion therapy. “Pastor Omooba has been involved in a string of anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns over the course of his career, including a failed attempt to stop anti-discrimination legislation against gay people in 2006,” reported iNews. The legislation tackled discrimination banning hotels from refusing bookings from same-sex couples. He also campaigned against same-sex marriage, saying equal unions devalue the meaning of marriage itself. Pastor Omooba runs an organization called Christian Concern that has rallied against the rights of the LGBTQ+ community since its inception in 2004.

Miss Celie and Shug Avery’s relationship is barely alluded to in the Broadway play, much like the movie. The full extent of their sexual relationship still has not made it into the mainstream re-tellings, which would explain why an actress with Omooba’s beliefs would be “comfortable” enough to go for a character whose queerness was originally erased by a white man who worried that a “Black story” would be exposed to a difficult reception if the queer foundation of Celie and Shug’s relationship was left out of the narrative. It is that same attitude that has the diversity train running slow as hell in Hollywood today so knowing what we know now, that sacrifice was never worth Celie now being played by a homophobe.

The Birmingham Hippodrome, the theatre company hosting the play, released a statement on Twitter. “The views expressed in the historic social media post by a member of Curve and Brum Hippodrome’s The Color Purple cast in no way reflects those held by either of our theatres. We will be looking into the matter and will issue a full response in due course.” They later released another statement with the Leicester Curve. “Following careful reflection, it has been decided that Seyi will no longer be involved with the production,” said part of the statement. “This decision was supported by the Authors and Theatrical Rights Worldwide,” reported Broadway World.

Miss Celie deserved better from Steven Spielberg and she definitely deserves better than someone who would disregard a vital part of her identity. Thankfully the theatre practitioners responsible for bringing this story to British audiences understand that. The beauty of the remake is that stories can grow and evolve just like people do. Perhaps Omooba has seen the error of her ways, but perhaps she hasn’t. Either way, it is a tragedy that compounds the disservice done to a groundbreaking queer character, created by an even more groundbreaking queer writer. Miss Celie deserves better; on page, stage and screen.