Fantasia Barrino played Celie — a Black woman in the South who was physically and sexually abused — in the original Broadway version of The Color Purple.
But when she was approached about taking on the role again in a new movie-musical, she declined.
In an interview with Variety published on Tuesday, Barrino said playing Celie on stage was physically and emotionally draining.
“I carried her every day, all day, and I didn’t like that feeling,” she explained.
The American Idol alum was also hesitant to join the film because she feared the role would remind her of her own experiences with violence and sexual abuse.
Director Blitz Bazawule flew to her home in North Carolina to discuss his vision for the movie and convinced her Celie would have an awakening through music. Barrino liked the idea and agreed to make her big screen debut in the film.
“You get to see how she made it through some of this stuff,” Barrino explained.
Now as the film’s December release nears, the actress and Grammy-winning singer admits it was liberating to play Celie again.
“I’m grateful that I did not allow those voices in my head to hold me back from stepping into this woman’s shoes,” she said.
Barrino also revealed she did not use a stunt double in the scenes where Celie’s husband Mister (Colman Domingo) hits her, because she wanted to use the violence to confront her own past trauma.
“I could let go of every man that’s ever put his hands on me. I freed myself from that,” she said.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by author Alice Walker. Originally published in 1982, the book earned a Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985.
The musical version premiered on Broadway in 2005, with Barrino joining the production in 2007. The production later went on to win a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
In the original movie adaptation, Whoopi Goldberg starred as Celie. Oprah Winfrey portrayed Sofia, Margaret Avery played Shug, and Akosua Busia portrayed Nettie.
Winfrey, Spielberg and Quincy Jones produced the new Warner Bros. movie, which the studio describes as a “bold new take” on the story.
The cast also includes Danielle Brooks, H.E.R., Taraji P. Henson, Corey Hawkins, Halle Bailey, and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor.
The Color Purple arrives in theaters on Dec. 25, 2023.