Oprah Faced Pressure to Cast Beyoncé or Rihanna in ‘The Color Purple’

Oprah, Beyonce, and Rihanna (Credit: Shutterstock)

As the new adaptation of The Color Purple nears its Christmas Day release, Oprah Winfrey is shedding light on the film’s casting process.

Winfrey, who produced the movie musical alongside Quincy Jones, Scott Sanders, and Steven Spielberg, told The Hollywood Reporter there was pressure to cast a superstar singer due to the film’s nearly $100 million budget.

Beyoncé and Rihanna were among the names being discussed, according to Oprah.

“To be completely honest about it, if you were doing this film for $30 or $40 million, the interest in the cast would be very different,” she said in the interview published on Dec. 12. “Once the film moved to $90 million-$100 million, then everybody wants us to bring in Beyoncé.”

Related Story: ‘The Color Purple’ Soundtrack to Feature Fantasia, Alicia Keys, H.E.R., Usher

Winfrey recalled being asked by a studio exec, “‘Can you get Beyoncé or can you get Rihanna?’ So we’re sitting in a room saying, ‘Listen, we love Beyoncé. We love Rihanna, but there are other actors who can do this job.'”

The media mogul said Beyoncé was gearing up for the release of her recent album, Renaissance, and Rihanna was embracing her role as a new mother.

“I do remember conversations about, ‘Y’all, Beyoncé is going to be busy this year.’ It wasn’t even a negotiation, because you’re not getting Beyoncé,” Oprah said.

While executives could not cast Bey, the producers did end up landing her recent collaborator, Blitz Bazawule. The Ghanaian filmmaker signed on to helm the movie after working with Beyoncé on her 2020 visual companion to The Lion King, titled Black Is King.

Even with the film’s budget, Winfrey and her collaborators still found themselves in a battle for increased resources and the cast that Bazawule ultimately envisioned.

“I would have to say that [Warner Bros. co-chairs] Pam [Abdy] and Mike De Luca really got it from the first time they saw the film, and understood that they heard me and heard Steven and heard the team when we said, ‘This is the reason why this has to be done,’” Winfrey shared. “You have to give us more money to do this because this is a cultural manifesto in a way for our community, and it deserves to have the support that’s needed to make it what it needs to be.”

The movie is based on Alice Walker’s 1982 novel, which earned a Pulitzer Prize and later became a film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985. A musical version premiered on Broadway in 2005 and won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

Fantasia Barrino, who reprises her role as Celie from the Broadway version, told THR the cast went above and beyond in support of their director.

“It’s an all-Black cast and it’s a movie that is really deep,” she told the outlet. “So for Blitz, we all would go hard even when we were tired, when we were upset.”

Fantasia is joined in the cast by Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson, and H.E.R. as Sofia, Shug, and Squeak, respectively. Halle Bailey, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, David Alan Grier, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, and Deon Cole round out the main cast. Louis Gossett Jr., Tamela Mann, and Ciara also have roles in the film.

In the original movie adaptation, Whoopi Goldberg starred as Celie — a woman who endured physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father and later her husband. Winfrey played Sofia, and Margaret Avery played Shug.

The new version of The Color Purple premieres in theaters on Dec. 25.

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