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Oprah Says Starring in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 ‘The Color Purple’ Was the Best $35,000 She Ever Earned: “It Changed Everything”

Oprah Winfrey is reflecting on her time playing Sofia in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple for the 1985 original, saying it’s still one of the best and most meaningful paychecks she’s ever earned.

Winfrey, an executive producer on the upcoming movie musical, sat down with several members of the film’s leading cast back in May ahead of the SAG-AFTRA strike for an Essence cover story. During the round-table-style chat, the actresses — which includes Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson and H.E.R. — opened up about following in the footsteps of the 1985 cast, why they worked on the stage musical (or turned it down), and their reactions to hearing the news they’d been cast.

During the interview, Brooks thanked Winfrey — who played her character Sofia in the 1985 Steven Spielberg directed adaptation — for “leaving space for me but also being there, to hold my hand and answer that phone call when I needed you.” Winfrey responded by extending her thanks to the entire cast, before sharing her personal joy and appreciation around starring in the film.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what it means to me — a person who wanted nothing more in my life than to be in The Color Purple. And God taught me to surrender — that was the big lesson for me,” the media mogul said. “They were only offering $35,000 to be in this film, and it is the best $35,000 I ever earned. It changed everything and taught me so much. It is God moving through my life.”

Winfrey went on to explain how personally meaningful it was to have the story return to the screen with its talented cast. “To have all of you beautiful Black women bearing witness to the story, as the story moves forward, means so much,” she explained. “I believe that what Fantasia has said is true: Everybody who comes to see our film is going to be touched. They will be moved. And they will be healed.”

During the discussion, Barrino would open up about the difficulties of taking on her role as Celie, sharing that she nearly turned it down. “In the beginning, I wasn’t going to take the role — because I knew I was going to have to step into some things that I’d buried,” she said. “But I had an amazing cast to support me.”

The other women also opened up about the emotional difficulty of stepping into their roles, with Henson pointing out that “when you’re doing something so heavy like this, it can be triggering. You have to learn to live in between takes.”

“It’s the sacrifice you make sometimes for the art, right?” added H.E.R. “As storytellers, we take those chances, and we tell our stories in different ways, and it’s for a greater good. You never know how many people you impact.”

Barrino said that while the journey was difficult, she “came out healed. I’m glad that I did it. I am free from some things that I was holding on to.”

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