Inside Out LGBT Film Festival: Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth (2013)
In the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple, the romance between Celie and Shug is not the primary focus of the book – but it is the first thing people usually like to talk about. This particular element of the novel gets the most attention because both these characters happen to be black women and the depiction of their sexual relationship, set against the intolerance of rural Georgia in the 1930s, was considered shocking to some and extremely brave to others when it was published in 1983. The Color Purple is a singular American work born from the experiences and family history of poet, feminist and political activist Alice Walker. In a new documentary by Pratibha Parmar included in Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival, Alice Walker speaks about her unique life’s journey and, as she has been known to do, fearlessly bares her soul as if it was the most natural thing in the world. In The Color Purple, Celie’s lesbian relationship does not define her character – rather, it is treated by the author as one of many experiences that inform the young woman’s identity. In Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, Walker discusses her marriage to civil rights activist Melvyn Leventhal as well as her later relationship with musician Tracy Chapman, and her approach to sexual identity is characteristically nonconformist. In the film, Walker says that she does not see herself as lesbian or bisexual, remaining open to all experiences and loving people for who they are.
Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth serenely takes us through Walker’s personal and professional journey; her childhood in Jim Crow era Georgia, publishing her first book of poems, moving to New York City to be a contributor for Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine and the genesis of writing The Color Purple. Alongside Walker’s successes, the documentary also addresses public acrimony surrounding her writing as well as some painful personal grievances within her family. When Steven Spielberg directed the film adaptation of The Color Purple in 1985, it was met by condemnation from some groups within the African-American community who felt Walker’s narrative unfairly depicted black men as violent and abusive. In the interviews with Walker, it is easy to recognize the author’s discomfort when discussing her estranged daughter. Rebecca Walker is also an author and activist who has written extensively about her unhappy childhood, in articles like 2008’s “How My Mother’s Fanatical Views Tore Us Apart” for the UK publication the Daily Mail. Although Walker’s daughter does not appear in the documentary, Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth does feature interviews with Gloria Steinem, Sapphire, Steven Spielberg, Angela Davis and Quincy Jones. In its style and pacing, Parmar’s documentary effectively communicates the nature of its subject: Tranquil and unyielding, wise and still curious, vulnerable and resilient.
Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth is showing at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sunday, June 2nd, 2013 at 7:30PM.