The colour purple: It’s a new movie and an old hue that’s rich in meaning and history
NEW YORK, United States (AP) — “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it,” Shug tells Celie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.
In nature, among the priestly and royal, as a symbol of independence, pride, and magic, purple is weighty in history and culture. Now, with the Christmas Day opening of the second film based on Walker’s 1982 book, purple takes a seat at the box office after the historic popularity of Barbie and all things pink.
Consider it a many-layered cultural counterpart to its frothier cousin.
Power, ambition, luxury — purple reflects them all.
In contemporary history and fiction it often represents something sought dearly. In the early 20th century, purple attire and signage signified loyalty and dignity among the suffragists.
In Walker’s novel, Celie, the main character, wants a pair of purple shoes, but can’t afford them, so she settles on blue.
Oprah Winfrey, who played Sofia in the 1985 film version of The Color Purple, has donned purple frequently to promote the new musical she helped produce. And she wore a purple taffeta gown by Christian Siriano in her recently unveiled portrait for the National Portrait Gallery.
To Oprah, purple is “seminal”; to others, it’s a shapeshifter, said Laurie Pressman, vice-president of the Pantone Color Institute, which analyses and consults on colour, including for the folks who made this year’s The Color Purple.
“It can take on so many contexts,” Pressman said. “It’s a colour that stands out, that makes a statement, that has a singular presence in the world.”
There are many ways to think about the colour.
When Julius Caesar travelled to Egypt in 48 BC and met Queen Cleopatra, he noted her love of purple and embraced it himself. It’s a love later taken up by Byzantine emperors. But before them, Caesar decreed that only Caesars could wear togas dyed completely purple.
Purple was reserved for royalty, priests, and nobles at various times in history and in various places.
In song there is Prince’s Purple Rain, Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, Juice WRLD’s Purple Devil. Purple has been peppering songs for decades, but no musical artiste has been more closely aligned with the colour than Prince. After his 2016 death, his estate worked with Pantone to come up with an official Prince purple, dubbed Love Symbol #2.
Of the song’s meaning and title, Prince once explained: “When there’s blood in the sky … red and blue equals purple. Purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/God guide you through the purple rain.”
On canvas, Monet, Chagall, Derain, Rothko, Matisse, Klimt were all admirers of purple.
The colour is said to have first surfaced in art during the Neolithic era, writes Hannah Foskett at the site Arts & Collections. The pre-Raphaelites in Britain especially loved purple.
Monet stands out for his use of violet in his Lily, Haystack, Snow and Rouen Cathedral series of paintings.
It’s all things purple as we to wait on the première.