Fantasia Barrino – The Artist Who Keeps Things Real

The film musical The Color Purple was released in the UK on January 26. One of its stars is Fantasia Barrino, aka just Fantasia, an artist well-loved due to her talent and authenticity.

Raised in a Christian home in North Carolina, Fantasia had her first child at 17 and, aged 19, she took a chance to change her life trajectory by entering American Idol.

Fantasia wowed the judges and viewers with her soulful, gospel-influenced voice, and was crowned the winner and won a recording contract. Her debut single, I Believe, hit the number one spot on the Billboard Charts and kick-started an illustrious career which has seen her win two Grammys; sell millions of albums; release a book; and amass a enormous social media following.

In 2007 Fantasia appeared in the Broadway stage production of The Color Purple (Musical) as main character, Celie Harris Johnson, for which she received a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut Performance and an NAACP Theatre Award.

She has reprised the role for this film and spoke to Marcia Dixon MBE about the film, her life, and her plans to record a gospel album.

MARCIA DIXON (MD): What was your initial response when you got the invitation to play Celie in the musical version of The Color Purple?
FANTASIA BARRINO (FB): When Scott Sanders, one of the producers of the movie, called, I told him I couldn’t do it because when I played it on Broadway it was very heavy, and my life was very heavy at the same time. My memories from that time were not good. He started off by saying: “I know you’re in a good place. I know you’re married. We can tell you’re happy. But I know you can go back, and you’re my Celie.” And I’m like, God, no way. I remember getting off the phone and telling my husband: “I just can’t do it.” And it’s so funny, because we were all together the other day and ‘young Celie’ said something that I felt when Scott called. She said: “I don’t know if I want to play this part. Because I don’t want somebody thinking I’m ugly every day.” And I said it to my husband: “I don’t want to go back to being told that. I’m in a great place.”

MD: What eventually persuaded you to say yes to the role?
FB: It was when the producer Blitz Bazawule called me and showed me on Zoom. He drew out all the scenes. He put music to it. He had voices to it. And he gave Celie an imagination. And that’s when I said yes.

MD: You were in the Broadway production of The Color Purple. You are now in the film – your first major Hollywood movie. How did the experience of acting in a film differ from being on stage?
FB: Well, (acting on) a Broadway stage is very taxing. But I think doing the movie is taxing too because sometimes we didn’t leave our set until six and even seven o’clock in the morning. But Broadway, you’re doing a show every day. Sometimes two. I don’t know. It’s all hard work!

MD: Did you enjoy the experience of working on your first film?
FB: I did this time. I was in a good place. I knew how to come out and leave Celie on set. My family was there. I was looking at who I’m playing with. I was on set with Colman Domingo, Danielle Brooks, Corey Hawkins, Taraji (P Henson), Lou Gossett Jr, Aunjanue (Ellis-Taylor), David Alan Grier… I can keep going on and on and on! It was such a high to be able to be with all these amazing talents, tap into certain things that we’ve all experienced in our life, and pay homage to our ancestors.

MD: The Color Purple is a classic tale of hope, overcoming suffering hardship and despair, and journeying to self-love and fulfilment. How would you describe Celie’s journey in the film?
FB: It’s funny, I kind of see her like me. It started off with the American Idol. Even though I won, I was 19. I was young, green, and let’s talk about my life before I had my daughter at 17. So, things that Celie went through, I went through, and so I look at her like I look at myself and think look at me now.

MD: Colourism remains a big issue in the community. How would you like dark-skinned girls to feel about themselves when they watch the film?
FB: I want them to know that they’re beautiful, and we belong. I was a dark-skinned girl in school, big lips, big nose, and skinny. My lips were the biggest things on my body, and I was picked on a lot for that. Most of the girls in school were lighter-skinned and had long hair. I was this bony little thing. I had to heal from all the voices telling me “You’re ugly.”

I want dark-skinned girls to leave feeling healed and knowing that they are beautiful.

MD: When watching the film, I found the scenes where Celie experienced domestic abuse painful and upsetting. However, Celie’s experience mirrors that of many women. What would you say to women who are maybe going through something similar to what Celie experienced?
FB: Celie is a Cancer I’m a Cancer too. We’re very forgiving, loving, loyal. (Domestic abuse) is certainly something that happens where it’s the women who are holding a man down, who are cooking and cleaning, who get the second-hand treatment. I want every young woman to know that you don’t have to be in that type of situation. It was different back then. Celie had no other choice, but you can walk. When we are in an abusive relationship we tend to sit back and say, “But I see better, he can do better. And I know that he loves me.” But sometimes you have to step away and allow them to find their healing without you. We can’t play God in their lives and continue to be abused.

MD: During the course of the film, your character Celie received some very bad treatment from her husband, Mister. Yet, in the film she was very gracious to him, after she left him, even inviting him to her birthday party. It’s good to forgive but should she have been that forgiving?
FB: Yeah, but not only women, men too, because at the end of the day, we are the King’s kids. Christ, God, forgives us every day. Celie inviting Mister to her party was a cocky move. It was a move of “You remember all that stuff you said? All that stuff you did?” Don’t forget when I first left, he told Celie: “You ain’t gonna be nothin’. You’re ugly.” So, it was a cocky move for Celie to say: “Come on over. Let me show you how, where I stand. And I forgive you. I’m free from it.”

MD: Lastly, faith and gospel music have played a key role in your life. I understand you’re going to be releasing a gospel album. I’d love to know a bit more about that.
FB: My grandmother, who’s gone home to be with the Lord, always told me that I was going to record a gospel album. I feel like there’s so much going on in the world today and if I can contribute anything to love and healing and hope, and plant faith, why not put that out there? I started off in gospel when I was a kid with my family, so I went back to my family. I wanted to feel like that little girl again. The industry can be a lot, and I wanted that feeling again of when I first loved it. So, I’ve gone back to my family. My brother and I are writing a lot of records together, and I’m gonna work with a couple of other people, like KJ, who I love, and Dennis. Something in me feels like I just want to go back to use all those kids who are hungry, who would never get the opportunity, and give them something that somebody gave me.

The Color Purple is showing in cinemas across the UK. Visit www.thecolorpurplefilm.com

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