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The Color Purple: Manhood Isn't Toxic

Source: IMDB

I had a strong urge to see the new “Color Purple” movie, which was a strange because I don't usually like musicals. I’m also not really a huge fan of Fantasia’s vocals (but, baby, sis can act—when she did that lip quiver ...!).


I watched the movie through, all the way to the credits. It ended on a positive note, but I sat in my seat feeling wounded because it contained more concentrated male dysfunction than my spirit could tolerate. There was incest, rape, child abduction, physical and emotional abuse, indentured servitude, blatant adultery, financial manipulation, death threats—virtually every type of abomination possible at the hands of men. When Celie listed the reasons she questioned God, such as the loss of her children and her sister, Shug reminded her that those things happened at the hands of men.

What happened to these men? What made them so mean?


The male narrative in the movie was overwhelmingly malicious, and not an accurate depiction of the men in my life. It was a familiar story akin to many I’ve personally seen or experienced, including women saving the day when the harsh treatment by men became unbearable, but I'd be telling a straight lie if I didn't acknowledge the way my daddy, brothers, sons, other people's sons, and male community members came to my aid in times of need. Although we have had our differences, even my ex-husband and ex father-in-law have come through during some critical times.

The closest thing in the movie to a positive depiction of Black manhood was probably Harpo. Even Celie's real father, who ensured his daughters would be taken care of, was only referenced in passing.


I am torn because this is historical fiction. These things really did happen.  I saw my grandmothers' lives in that story. I saw my maternal grandmother, Iris June Murphy, in Celie. I saw my Grandmother Barbara Jean in Sophia. These terrible things happened to women, and I am never one to censor the stories of people, especially Black women. But I couldn't help but wonder what happened to these men? What made them so mean?


Author bell hooks discussed how patriarchy harms men, and there were clear examples of her observations in “The Color Purple.” Mister loved Shug, but didn't possess the skills he needed to show it. He abandoned his passion for music and possibly a promising relationship because of his father’s views on what made a suitable wife. Patriarchy cost him his joy, so he spread his misery like an infectious disease.


Harpo loved Sophia, but somewhere along the way, he learned love and "minding" was synonymous, and it cost him both his love and his child. His view of love became so warped he envied his dad’s house of pain, hatred, and abuse. He saw it as an ideal for which to aspire, and that's sad. 


Sofia's husband may as well have died fighting a white mob for her because the emotional death he suffered failing to protect her ultimately destroyed him. When you’re taught that your only value is your muscle and wallet, you’ll fail to see a way out of situations where strength and money don’t help. It makes it hard to lean into other roles, like nurturer, and to contend with emotions that society taught you were weak—even though many of these same emotions are the real path to strength. 


Black dysfunction on the silver screen, above all other options, is a misuse of imagination. When we’re in charge of both the stories and budget, we can give the next generation of men something better to aspire to. I don’t want to hear "misery and dysfunction is relatable". We need a new relatable. I want to see good dads who love their wives—plus maybe have superpowers, like “Aquaman." Subpar imagery of men is an issue because men are forever comparing themselves to media images. The bar needs to be higher than “I don't beat you, I don't blatantly cheat, and I pay at least some bills, but I lack emotional literacy, many adult life skills, and self-awareness.”


Women and our children need Black men to raise the bar. We need Black men to take responsibility for removing the toxic stain racism has left on your perception of manhood. Some Black men do this, and we see you, but the better you learn to love yourself the better we can learn to love each other.


Shanina Carmichael is a wellness advocate and a Black woman who loves to write about her experiences learning, unlearning, healing, and evolving. She is the mother of two beautiful Black boys.


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