How far is queer identity erased within both contemporary and subsequent reception of The Color Purple?

Helena Dunnett-Orridge


Alice Walker’s most famous novel, The Color Purple, posits an explicitly lesbian relationship within the context of a rural black community and is in this sense a ‘queer’ novel. However, this has been largely ignored, not only by literary scholars, but in the film adaptation of the work. To some extent Walker herself has minimised it, due, in large part, to the homophobic and sexist reactions to her work, but also to personal, internalised struggles with the queer identity she posits. Since the film adaptation of The Color Purple (1985) was directed by Steven Spielberg we can infer that its omission of queer relationships was influenced by the director’s desire for a mainstream, family audience and based upon heteronormative assumptions of queerness as inherently unsuitable for that audience.

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