Fantasia Barrino Shares Why She Almost Turned Down ‘The Color Purple’

Fantasia Barrino Shares Why She Almost Turned Down ‘The Color Purple’

It’s impossible to imagine the Blitz Bazawule-directed reimagining of The Color Purple without Fantasia Barrino. But according to the 39-year-old, that was almost our reality!

Speaking with ET’s Cassie DiLaura at the Variety Power of Women in Hollywood 2023 event on Thursday, Fantasia confessed that, at first, she “didn’t want to take the role.”

“I did it on Broadway, and it was hard. Our lives were so similar and at the time, I was young, and I didn’t know how to separate the two,” the singer recalled of her time doing the Broadway musical from 2006 to 2007, when she was in her early 20s. “But I’m glad that I did. She freed me this time, so thank you, Celie.”

Called a “revival” by producer Oprah Winfrey during the trailer’s presentation, the upcoming film is a reimagining of the story made iconic in the 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, the 1985 Warner Bros. Pictures film and the Tony Award-winning stage musical. It tells the powerful and heartbreaking story of Celie, a young Black woman living in the South from the early to mid-1900s, who finds strength in an extraordinary sisterhood and unbreakable bond.

Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones serve as producers alongside Winfrey, a full-circle moment for the trio since Spielberg directed the film adaptation in which Winfrey made her film debut, and Jones produced. 

Fantasia makes her major motion picture debut by reprising the role of adult Celie, which she first portrayed in her Broadway debut in 2007 and earned her a Theatre World Award. Danielle Brooks stars alongside her as Sofia, a role she played on Broadway during the 2015 revival production, earning her a Tony Award nomination.

The star-studded cast includes Taraji P. Henson as Shug AveryColman Domingo as Mister, Phylicia Mpasi as Young Celie, Corey Hawkins as Harpo, H.E.R. as Squeak, Louis Gossett Jr. as Ol’ Mister, David Alan Grier as Reverend Avery, Tamela J. Mann as First Lady, Halle Bailey as Young Nettie, Ciara as Adult Nettie, Deon Cole as Alfonso and Stephen Hill as Buster.

“We have good times together,” Fantasia told ET about the talented cast of actors. “And I think that is more special to me because when you think of Queen Oprah, you feel like, ‘You got to be like this [around her].’ But it’s like, no, you can be free. She has conversations with us, and she pulls us to the side. So, I thank her for being a woman who has done some great things but still can get down to earth with us.”

According to Variety, when Winfrey introduced Fantasia later that night, she told her audience, “Several years ago, as a producer, I watched Fantasia embody the character of Celie on the Broadway stage, and I thought, well, what could top that? And this year, I saw what could top that. To watch Fantasia re-embody, re-imagine and re-invent Celie for our film was to actually witness triumph in action.”

Amy Sussman/Variety via Getty Images

Looking back on her journey, the Variety Power of Women honoree called the current era of her life “a second time around.”

“I feel like God has given me a second time around. This feels like Idol to me again,” the 2004 American Idol winner told ET. “I had to go through some things as we all do. Some of us are not always willing to share that. I’m willing to share that because that is real life, and people need to hear it. I can fall, but get back up.”

Although she’s had much success, the “I Believe” singer has always been candid about her trials and tribulations, including an overdose on aspirin and sleeping pills in 2010 that put her in the hospital, as well as in the tabloids. She’s authored two books detailing her rise to fame, troubles and building a successful life with her husband, Kendall Taylor. 

She continued, “All day long, I’ve been crying; I’ve been thinking about my grandmother, who’s in heaven. But I know she’s somewhere with me, and she’s proud, and so is God. So I’m gonna walk in it humbly. Be nice to people [and] love on people, ’cause we don’t have a lot of that, and we need that in the world today.”

Joe Scarnici/Variety via Getty Images

Fantasia reiterated that sentiment in her speech on Thursday. Per Variety, she said, “I’ve been through some things I haven’t been afraid to share. Sometimes we don’t want to share what we go through, but I knew that my tests were part of my testimony, and I knew that my testimony would help a lot of people.”

“I want to thank Celie,” she went on. “I didn’t want to play this role again, because I knew this role would bring up some certain things in my life that I thought I was over, but I think I just suppressed. So when they called me I said ‘I cannot do it. I’m married. I’m happy. No thanks.’ But I had to for every young lady that has been through some of the things that I’ve been through. Not even the young ladies, there are some ladies that are a lot older than me that say, ‘Thank you for sharing your story.'”

Fantasia concluded on a message of hope, dedicating her award to Celie, her own daughter, and “every young lady that’s going to go through some things. But it does not matter what you go through, baby. We fall down but we get back up. You Google me. I fell but I got back up!”

Jon Kopaloff/Variety via Getty Images

Fantasia previously opened up to ET about her hesitation to reprise her role as Celie for the musical film. Last April, the singer said, “My life at that time was all over the place. So, carrying Celie’s weight and my weight was not fun. And I remember saying in interviews and radio stations, when they would ask me, I said, ‘Well, I did it, but I’ll never do it again.”

Enter Scott Sanders, one of The Color Purple‘s producers who called Fantasia about the role, but she already had her answer prepared.

“‘I can’t go back, I can’t do that again, Scott'” Fantasia recalled telling Sanders. “And he says, ‘Listen, I know where you are in your life right now. I see that you’re married. I’m so proud of you and I’m so happy. But, there’s no one else that can do this. We need you to do this.'”

Suffice it to say, Fantasia is glad she came on board. “It’s going to be absolutely amazing,” she said. “I’m glad that I didn’t allow that door to close. I talked it over with my whole entire family and everybody kept saying, ‘I think you should do it.'”

But being on the set of The Color Purple triggered a roller coaster of emotions for the star.

“It’s been hard on set, it’s been funny on set, it’s been emotional on set, it’s been cold, it’s been hot,” she said. “I will say this too — some of the places that we are filming has been heavy, because literally we have slave homes that have been there for years behind us. We can feel our ancestors. So, it’s heavy. But it also reminds us that they paved the way for us. It also reminds us how far — to be an all-Black cast — we want to push the heavens for our ancestors and for our generation today.”

The Color Purple opens in theaters on Dec. 25.


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