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    2023 Movie Gold … and Purple

    By Jan Wahl–

    It turned out to be a strong movie year. Maestro, Barbie, Air, Killers of the Flower Moon, and Oppenheimer were all worth our time and money—well worth it! Seeing them on the big screen is the best, providing a way to fully appreciate costume design, sets, sound, acting, writing, direction … everything! I know theatres are closing, breaking our cinema paradiso hearts, but try and seek out the ones that are still open.

    As much as I love the aforementioned films, it is the newest incarnation of The Color Purple that has stolen my 2023 movie first place. But this is contingent upon viewing it on the big screen, the only way to appreciate this gutsy, sumptuous movie musical. Many of you remember the 1985 film of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. The coming-of-age drama was a hit, nominated for 11 Oscars. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it starred Oprah, Whoopi, and Margaret Avery. 

    This time (releasing Christmas Day) it is a full-blown movie musical based on the Broadway play. We meet a young girl living in the South circa early 1900s. Directed by Blitz Bazawule, produced by Oprah, Spielberg, and Quincy Jones, among others, it will leave you satisfied, grateful, and overwhelmed by the craft of great filmmaking. 

    Fantasia Barrino

    Though I usually prefer more traditional musical numbers, ala Chicago and Hairspray, the ones in this film are powerfully perfect. There are a couple—on a chain gang, building a nightclub, in a dress shop—that are etched in my brain forever. These numbers have a West Side Story vibe, but are original on their own.

    The cast is remarkable, with the film starring Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, H.E.R., Halle Bailey, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, and others, including a couple of surprise cameos. But the film is really centered on Fantasia Barrino in her film debut as Celie.

    Francine Jamison-Tanchuck

    Known by many as Fantasia, she rose to prominence for singing “Summertime” in the third season of American Idol. Her albums after were huge hits, leading eventually to Broadway as Celie in the musical The Color Purple. She truly is the heartbeat of this enormous film, and I’m hoping it will lead her to Oscar gold.

    I have become rather obsessed with costume design in film since teaching a course and giving lectures on Hollywood Dress Design and Designers. Francine Jamison-Tanchuck calls designing the male and female clothes for this period film the opportunity of a lifetime. Most of the clothes had to be created based on period research so that everything could move and stretch with the dancing, with careful detail for closeups. Henson’s diva outfits are sensational! The production design by Paul D. Austerberry, the work of the music and art departments, Fatima Robinson’s choreography, and everyone involved were at the top of their game.

    The ending is sublime, and I waked out of the theatre feeling blessed. Who could ask for anything more?

    This was a great year on the small screen due to The Crown and The Gilded Age. For fans of The Gilded Age, check out the last few chapters of Anderson Copper’s newest book, The Astors. Who knew The Astor Bar was the place to find gay men during the midcentury? There were hookups galore, as long as one was sitting on the right bar stool.

    Once again, my love of great books, TV, film, and showbiz has made my year!

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian and film critic on various broadcast outlets. She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Off the Wahl
    Published on December 21, 2023