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Bad Black Roles In 'Purple'

February 16, 1986

The self-serving dialogue between Oprah Winfrey, Akosua Busia and Margaret Avery in "3 Color Purple Actresses Talk About Its Impact" (by Jack Mathews, Jan. 31) was most revealing.

They voiced the sentiments of a growing number of new black actors and actresses who feel free to accept any "black role," no matter how demeaning it is to their people and themselves. Yet they condemn the opinions of fellow blacks who criticize their actions.

While at one point Avery admitted that, as for her role in "Purple," she is simply happy to have a job again, the others pretended that their main concern, as actresses in this film, is for the well being of the black community.

Since most white Americans have little contact with their black countrymen, the white perception of black people is based almost entirely on what they see or read of blacks in the national media. On television, for example, most black men are depicted as thugs, dope addicts or fools; and, consequently, in real life, most white people would be terrified to happen upon a black man--no matter how clean-cut, well educated or innocent--in a dark alley.

Blacks have continuously been stereotyped in movies since "Birth of a Nation," and neither "The Color Purple," "King Solomon's Mines" or any other updated degradation of black people--which happens to also employ hungry black actors and actresses--is going to magically reverse this trend, as Avery naively asserts.

Winfrey states that, "Every time there is a play or movie with white people in it, they don't expect them to represent the history or culture of the race." "Purple"--the first major black film on the black family in over a decade--will stand, perhaps for decades, as the quintessential statement on the black family. The white majority--which is consistently depicted by the media in every conceivable role--is not subject to such isolated, one-dimensional portrayals.

The role of Oprah Winfrey as Sofia in "Purple" probably best illustrates the potential damage of the movie. In one scene, Sofia presents herself to the audience as a remorseless, unmarried, pregnant girl. Viewed alone this may seem harmless. But when coupled with the recollection of Bill Moyer's documentary on the "Vanishing Black Family," the weekly depiction of "Dynasty's" Diahann Carroll as an illegitimate daughter/mother and the fact that 60% of all black children in America are born to unwed mothers, this scene, appearing in a movie rated PG-13, may well be a catastrophic image for black youths.

Finally, Winfrey dismisses "Purple's" critics as only "a small segment of racial watchdogs." How silly and naive! Would that the German Jews--who, prior to the Holocaust, were also maligned in the media--had been blessed by such an astute cadre of prophets.


Chairman, Coalition Against Black Exploitation, Compton

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