Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker says it would be a “betrayal” for a homophobic actress to play lead character Celie in the musical adaption of The Color Purple.
In The Color Purple, which started out as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel before becoming a 1985 Oscar-nominated film and then a musical with two Broadway runs, main character Celie Johnson falls in love with a woman after being abused by her father and husband.
Then earlier this year, actress Oluwaseyi Omooba made headlines after a 2014 Facebook post of hers resurfaced. Omooba was cast to play Celie in a Leicester Curve production of the musical before then moving to the Birmingham Hippodrome in England. But after that Facebook post, in which Omooba stated that homosexuality may be legal but is also a sin and thus not right, she was fired.
Omooba says that she plans to sue the Leicester Curve over her firing. She also plans to sue the Global Artists Agency for firing her as their client. She says that she’s suffered discrimination for her Christian beliefs.
Throughout the many months of controversy around this issue, original books author Alice Walker has remained silent. But, she recently sent a letter to Color Purple producer Scott Sanders and authorized the sharing of that letter online. In the letter, she stated how despite feeling “heartfelt compassion” for Omooba, she would not approve of an anti-gay actress playing the role.
In the letter, Walker wrote that Ceelie “is based on the life of my grandmother, Rachel, a kind and loving woman brutally abused by my grandfather. … It is safe to say, after a frightful life serving and obeying abusive men, who raped in place of ‘making love,’ my grandmother, like Celie, was not attracted to men,” Walker wrote.
“She was, in fact, very drawn to my grandfather’s lover, a beautiful woman who was kind to her, the only grown person who ever seemed to notice how remarkable and creative she was. In giving Celie the love of this woman, in every way love can be expressed, I was clear in my intention to demonstrate that she too, like all of us, deserved to be seen, appreciated, and deeply loved by someone who saw her as whole and worthy.”
Walker then warned Oomba and other readers on their biblical excuse for homophobia, as she believes “sexual love can be extraordinarily holy, whoever might be engaging in it.”
“Playing the role of ‘Celie’ while not believing in her right to be loved, or to express her love in any way she chooses, would be a betrayal of women’s right to be free,” she concluded. “As an elder, I urge all of us to think carefully about what I am saying, even as you, Oluwaseyi Omooba, sue the theatre company for voiding your contract. This is just an episode in your life; your life, your work, and your growth, will continue, in the real world. A world we must make safe for women and children, female and male. And the greatest freedom of all is the freedom to be your authentic self.”