(1985)4.5Derek ArmstrongSteven Spielberg's first cinematic attempt to delve deeper than escapism produced a rich, heartfelt epic that matched the Pulitzer Prize-winning credentials of Alice Walker's novel, receiving 11 Oscar nominations but famously winning none of them. The Color Purple is a triumph of all elements of production design, nominated for its screenplay, cinematography, makeup, costumes, art direction, score, and three of its actresses -- though not for director Spielberg. The snub may have helped push him as an artist toward such prestigious works as Schindler's List. One would hardly guess Whoopi Goldberg's roots were in comedy, given the layered dramatic performance she offers in her first real screen role. Oprah Winfrey (also debuting) and Margaret Avery are the other two-thirds of the heart-breaking dynamic between three black women in Spielberg's brutal world of racial and sexual prejudice. Even Danny Glover's role shows late-blooming sympathy, however agonizingly wrought, which demonstrates the dimension of Menno Meyjes' script. There's nothing simple about this early 20th century South, populated by characters paralyzed by the roles ascribed to them, and wickedly punished when they try to venture beyond their bounds. It boils the blood at the same time that it touches the soul, making for genuinely tear-soaked cinema with a visceral emotional payoff.