“The Color Purple” Based on Alice Walker’s novel, appeared over 35 years ago. It is a great motion picture. Along with the matchless cast and acting it contains a number of wonderful life lessons that set it in a class by itself. It is definitely filled with wonderful material for sermons or lectures on faith, values and ethics in the classic tradition.
One lesson that is particularily vivid is that involving the character “Miss Millie.” Miss Millie is a wonderful depiction of a person so used to her privileged notion of herself that words of condescension issue from her mouth effortlessly. After saying to the character Sofia (Oprah Winfrey) “Your children are so clean” followed by “Do you want to be my maid?” she is taken aback by Sofia’s honest answer “H**L NO!” While she is puzzling over the reply a group begins to descend on Sofia and her children, including the towns mayor. She punches him in defence of herself and children and immediately is surrounded by an angry mob and struck in the head with a pistol, damaging one of her eyes. She is carted off to prison where she serves an 8 year sentence for her language and effort at self defence.
In the meantime, Miss Millie, after all those years have passed, is still at the starting line. She is totally clueless as to the horrible wrong she has done and what she might do to try to rectify it. Naturally she thinks small. Sofia winds up her maid “after all” and Miss Millie, after commenting that “it’s a shame.” Sofia has been locked in prison so long, suggests taking her for a visit to the family she has been deprived of for so long. “You can stay all day! You can stay ALL day!” Millie says with an emphasis on her own personal charity and magnanimity. (Of course Millie can’t even execute this trifling crumb of goodness correctly)
Sofia’s reunion with her family is bittersweet, her children are so grown and changed that they seem almost like strangers. Meanwhile outside Miss Millie, having just purchased an elegant new roadster, discovers that she can’t even turn the car around properly by herself. She interrupts Sofia with this knowledge and Sofia pleads with her to let one of her family drive her home so she can see her family, but Millie, after all only concerned with her own comfort and ideas of safety allows the “All Day” promise to dwindle into a few minutes as Sofia has to drive her home at once.
As the film proceeds, we are gratified to later find Sofia genuinely reunited with her family and sitting at the table with them, saying rejoicingly: “Sofia done come home! Things gonna be changin’ around here.”
Her jubilance gives the character Celie (played by Whoopi Goldberg) the courage to leave her abusive husband Mistah, played by Danny Glover.
Mistah, unlike miss Millie, continues in the film to show what real repentance actually looks like . He goes to his secret coffer of hidden money and bankrolls the return of Celie’s sister, sent away by him when they were young girls and lost to her for years. He doesn’t offer a scrap, he offers in Celies own language of pain to try as best he can to right some of his enormous wrongs.
Also to be said for Mistah he did not throw away all the letters Celie’s sister had sent to try to keep in touch while she was a missionary in Africa. He kept and hid them. Celie, with Shug Avery’s help, was finally able to find and read them, because of that spark of conscience on Mistah’s part.
When we do wrong, in this life, we can be like Miss Millie and simply not even recognise it. Or we can be like Mistah and knowing we can’t put those broken pieces back together again, do our best to show we realize our mistakes and are sorry. Pretty obvious which choice, I think.
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