Given Another Chance, Steven Spielberg Would Totally Censor The Color Purple’s Lesbian Content Again

For some reason, in 1985 Steven Spielberg—now director of such fine films as Hook and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull—was asked to direct the film version of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. He then proceeded to squash all the lesbian eroticism and sex between the book’s characters Shug Avery and Celie into one tender kiss. And if given a second chance, Spielberg said he’d still leave out all the lesbian sex… just to snag a PG-13 rating… or something.

Here’s his explanation:

“There were certain things in the [lesbian] relationship between Shug Avery and Celie that were very finely detailed in Alice’s book, that I didn’t feel we could get a [PG-13] rating,” Spielberg tells EW’s Anthony Breznican. “And I was shy about it. In that sense, perhaps I was the wrong director to acquit some of the more sexually honest encounters between Shug and Celie, because I did soften those. I basically took something that was extremely erotic and very intentional, and I reduced it to a simple kiss. I got a lot of criticism for that. I wouldn’t [do it differently now], no. That kiss is consistent with the tonality, from beginning to end, of The Color Purple that I adapted.”

Even though we never get to see Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Avery get it on, The Color Purple is still a pretty good flick. And if Spielberg were to direct it again in 2011 (God forbid), he would probably replace the lesbian scenes with a bunch of clairvoyant children who come in contact with an alien that no adults seem to believe in. He’d also use Tom Cruise and a bunch of emotionally manipulative music—Oscar gold, my friends.

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  • bagooka

    Steven, Steven, Steven. You’re a bad man, Steven.

  • Andreas Lights

    I’ve read the book and seen the movie countless times. I think the director did the right thing by suggesting the intimacy using the pan and fade away from Celie’s hand on Shug’s shoulder toward the wind chime.

    As one of the only two white people in a movie theater of otherwise all black audience members, they screamed, hooted and hollered, flailed their arms up, many standing up and just falling short of throwing stuff at the screen during the love scene between Celie and Shug. Anything more graphic and folks would have surely walked out. This was 1986.

    My only problem with Spielberg having directed this all-time classic is that the Academy largely ignored this film, in effect blaming him for the tragedy leading to the deaths of the three actors in “The Twilight Zone” because of an on-set helicopter accident many said Spielberg was ultimately responsible for the year before. That was unfortunate and unfair.

    P.S. Whatever happened to the film version of the stage musical? It must have gotten shelved. Does anyone know why?

  • Wordsmith

    “I got a lot of criticism for that.”

    You also ‘got’ completely ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that year.

  • KCraigJ

    As a Black man and gay, I get it and the nature of Spielberg’s decision in 1985. He Has a decision to make: Gay rights-which at that time were not on the positive upswing they are now and loose a huge audience/money. Or a movie about abuse and finding the strength to love yourself. Not to mention, that movie caused a huge serge in the movement against spousal abuse. It would not be as historic with graphic lesbian scenes.
    If made today, I do disagree. it could handle the scenes.

  • Greenluv1322

    The movie begins with Celie giving birth to her fathers baby. So this 12 year old girl can be raped and have a baby, but the lesbian storyline was too much. GTFOH! Steven is like most of Hollywood, unnecessarily homophobic. 1985 was much more open sexually than now, unfortunately. Ofcourse you gay guys are ok with his explanation, most homosexual men are sexist.

  • CBRad

    Spielberg is the most overrated filmmaker ever, anyway. I can’t stand that manipulative thing he always throws in with closeups of faces staring up in wonder.

  • jason

    Something about Steven Spielberg says “CLOSET CASE” to me. Anyone know?

  • CBRad

    @jason: I’ve never heard anything. But (aside from that) remember when he had that insane gay stalker after him? Forget the guy’s name. And he was hot !

  • Ricky Rocky

    Blaming ignorance in the marketplace is the death of art.

    (just made myself laugh)

  • CBRad

    @Ricky Rocky: That’s pretty good! and very true. (The problem is, Hollywood films are as much a business as they are “art”).

  • Daniel


    He left in the lesbian storyline, left in the kiss, took out the sex. In the same way, he didn’t show the 12 year old getting brutally raped. Oh, and thanks for the blanket assertion about gay men, bigot. In addition to failing at reading comprehension, you apparently fail at being a decent human being.

  • Ralpo

    I liked the subtle comparison. Mister’s belt buckles clanking on the bed head during sex as he fucked her unresponsive body juxtaposed with the gentle tinkling of wind chimes as Celie claimed her sexuality.

  • chuck

    Mr Spielberg is well known in Hollywood as not being the most supportive director for LGBT rights. As far as I know he is not a bigot but certainly wouldn’t ever include a positive LGBT slant to any of his movies.

  • What?

    @Andreas Lights: Stop making it about race. White people do the exact same thing. The skin color of the people in the audience didn’t matter at all.

    In freaking Los Angeles I hear white men of all ages from teens to 50+ using the slur “fag” quite freely without a care in the world and no one says a word about it.

    Where are you when that happens? Do you speak up or do you reserve your commentary specifically for black homophobes?

    I regularly have white and asian men call me a fag and spew homophobia at me a black gay male for coming to LA expecting to have people “be ok with him being gay”(partial quote from a jerk who harassed me in a class nonstop).

    Where are you vocal anti-homophobe preachers at those moments?

    Black this and black that is all I ever see nowadays in reference to homophobia when the most vocal homophobes I come across on a daily basis are in fact white.

  • PitterPartyofOne

    @Andreas Lights: Exactly. Everyone knows The Color Purple was robbed because of the Twilight Zone tragedy. I think he made a brilliant film and the sexual relationship between Sug and Celie was perfectly represented. There was no need to show the graphics that, while wonderful to read in the book, would have distracted from a gorgeous film. Sometimes, to imply is far better than to show, especially in such a visual medium.

    Additionally, in 85, the film would have received either no rating or an X rating if he would have included the sex scenes, plus he would have lost distribution, and the only talk of the film would have been about the “lesbians.” It’s a great movie as it is.

  • Kieran

    Spielberg is probably the most overrated Hollywood director of all time with the possible exception of Martin Scorcese.

  • Kenster999

    To his credit, back in 2001 (quoted from

    Oscar-winning producer and director Steven Spielberg announced Monday that he is stepping down from his position as an advisory board member of the Boy Scouts of America.

    “The last few years in scouting have deeply saddened me to see the Boy Scouts of America actively and publicly participating in discrimination. It’s a real shame,” Spielberg said from a prepared statement.

    “I thought the Boy Scouts stood for equal opportunity and I have consistently spoken out publicly and privately against intolerance and discrimination based on ethnic, religious, racial and sexual orientation.”

  • tj

    1. Spielberg has an adopted openly gay black male son
    2. There IS NO SEX IN THE BOOK! Shug gives Celie a mirror and tells her to look at herself down there. Shug then goes and gets married. She comes back and they sleep in the same bed together. They kiss after Celie tells Shug about Nettie but there is no sex scene.
    3. I thought the film was pitch perfect.

  • jason


    I agree that some homosexual men can be sexist. I also think that some homosexual men can be homophobic.

    That’s why I always judge people on their content. I never make assumptions about a person simply on the basis of their identity.

  • the crustybastard

    If Spielberg didn’t want to make his primarily heterosexual audience uncomfortable by depicting homosexuality, why didn’t he also make his primarily caucasian audience more comfortable by casting all the roles with white actors?

    Nicole Kidman as Miss Ceilie?

  • Andreas Lights

    @What?: Sorry, but I’m not making this about race. The all-black theater ACTUALLY HAPPENED, NO B.S. I am still friends with the other white person. Even Chris Rock says in his act that black people talk to the movie screen… in this case, they yelled and flailed their arms.

  • Andreas Lights

    @What?: @What?: Further, if it were an all-asian crowd, or all-white, I would have mentioned that as part of the storytelling of what happened, setting the scene.

    FOR THE RECORD, I have NEVER been called a gay slur by a black person… EVER. I’ve been nootched a few times, they’ve sucked their teeth or rolled their eyes, but never anything overt. I know that the African American community generally despises homosexuality–just go to Maryland and talk gay rights there. But in Poughkeepsie? The homophobes are ALL WHITE.

    IN FACT, back in high school, the black students SAVED MY LIFE by taking me in as one of their own, the only white kid at the “black table” in the cafeteria. They told me to ignore the bullying and stick it out and not kill myself. This was back in the lat ’70s. And, oh, my partner of 16 years+ is of mixed heritage including modern African descent.

    THERE, now if you want to call me names, be better informed.

  • David Aventura

    “For some reason, in 1985 Steven Spielberg—now director of such fine films as Hook and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull—was asked to direct the film version of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.”

    Really? That first sentence is laughable. Fact: The Color Purple remains one of Speilberg’s finer films. It is also one of his most loved films. It displayed the acting talents of some of the finest people in this country, black or white. Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg will always be remembered for their roles in this movie. The fact that we are even discussing the movie more than 25 years after its release is a testament to its greatness.

    @Andreas Lights: You showed pure ignorance in your statement. If you were only one of two non-blacks at the showing of the movie, it was by YOUR CHOICE. Pick different theaters next time and save the racist rants for situations that warrant the attention.

  • Jollysocks

    Steven Spielberg and his wife donated $100,000 to the No on Prop 8 campaign. Say what you will about his work, he is a massive ally to the LGBT community and has probably donated 100 times the amount any of you reading this blog have.

  • David Aventura

    @Andreas Lights: Why do so many guys consider it a testament to ALL THINGS LIBERAL when they say that their partners are part black? My ex-partner was 1/2 black. I tell you one thing: 10 times out of 10, it was me correcting him for saying racist things about black people. It seems that his deep-rooted self-hatred of 1/2 of his origin made him a bigger racist than some of my family members. So, Andreas Lights, your partner’s ethnic roots mean nothing.

  • B

    No. 5 · Greenluv1322 wrote, “Ofcourse you gay guys are ok with his explanation, most homosexual men are sexist.” … which of course is a sexist statement by Greenluv1322!

    Spielberg’s explanation is that they needed a PG-13 rating. Given the cost of a film and the need to raise money to produce it, why blame Spielberg? Do you know that the studio or the producer didn’t insist on that before putting up the $15,000,000 or so needed to make the film?

  • Lea

    @tj: How do you know that his adopted son is gay?

  • Eli Biebers

    Stop reading homophobia into every single comment, people. Especially when you don’t know what you’re talking about. At the time Steven Spielberg made The Color Purple he had never even directed a full on sex scene. His comments are about graphic depictions of sexuality and not about lesbian sex. Spielberg has never depicted strong sexuality in any of his films, and he never even made an R-rated movie in the 70s and 80s. He has other things on his mind besides sex.

    Also, he has long been one of Hollywood’s most vocal supporters of gay rights. He supports marriage equality, he fought hard against Prop 8, and he made the painful decision to quit Boy Scouts organization more than a decade ago.

    Here are Spielberg’s own words:

    “I know it’s tough just being a kid trying to find acceptance and trying to accept yourself. And kids who grew up gay, no matter what the circumstances they grow up in, the culture is constantly telling them that something is wrong with them, as they struggle to find out who they are. So I quit the Boy Scouts. I resigned my commission . . . Empathy is a required element of morality. Fear and closed-mindedness breed judgment and they breed hate. To accept a situation in which a land so rich in culture, so fortunate, and so diverse could be anything but a haven for individuality and tolerance is unthinkable. Because after all, diversity is not, as some would have it, a politically correct codeword. Diversity is who we are. It captures our condition as a people and it describes us as a nation; it is the essence of our best aspirations, and it is what we must finally stand for in a world where democracy and equality are both uncommon and threatened where they already exist.”

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