Tony Award nominee Danielle Brooks, who stars as Sofia in the latest rendition of The Color Purple, recently spoke about needing physical therapy after filming a mob scene in the movie, in which Sofia fights off a crowd of people. She said despite the production having a stage combat leader and stunt coordinator, the scene still wreaked havoc on her physically, resulting in her having “to do physical therapy and go to the chiropractor for a few weeks to recover while still having to work.”
Despite also playing the role of Sofia in the 2015 Broadway revival, the portrayal of this scene on stage was much more tame than it was in this year’s film adaptation.
“It’s much different doing it for real, and having 10 to 15 guys surrounding you and you wanting to put everything in it because you want it to make sense from every angle, to not feel like you phoned it in.”
Danielle revealed that after filming wrapped, she wrote an entry in her journal describing just how ‘depleted’ she was, and went on to say that she prides herself on being a physical actor and enjoying using everything she can, including her body – adding that being trained at Juilliard was a huge help in her recovery.
Actors needing physical rehabilitation during or after filming is nothing new. And in a lot of cases, actors prepare their bodies for characters before filming even begins. When Michael B. Jordan made an almost immediate transition from Adonis Creed to Killmonger in Black Panther, he spoke to media outlets about not only about getting into Killmonger’s body, but his head, too.
What, then, would be the headspace Danielle had to get into to play the role of Sofia, who for half the film is a confident, boisterous woman with a high degree of self-certainty, but whose spirit is broken for the second half of the movie? When she describes needing physical rehabilitation for the toll this took on her body, it begs the question of what the toll of this film was on her mental health?
Despite being more than familiar with her character with this being her second go as Sofia, she acknowledged having to revert to her training to be able to mentally detach from the darkness of Sofia’s experiences, which suggests that even when movies are sprinkled with music and joy, the nature of the film can still be triggering in one way or another for the actors working so hard to tell the story.
“I do credit Juilliard for teaching us how to come out of character, how to not always go to the darkest of places within ourselves, to know when you do go there, that there is a way to pull out that you don’t have to stay there,” she said.
Personally, I became turned off of watching movies about Black trauma years ago. Movies like For Coloured Girls, 12 Years A Slave, Fences, Till, the list goes on. But asking myself deeper questions about why in the wake of Taraji P. Henson’s remarks about feeling undervalued in Hollywood makes me want to re-examine my disdain for these films.
It is undoubtedly an incredibly uncomfortable experience to watch some of the most painful elements in our history as a collective unfold in front of our very eyes for entertainment. Especially when you know that, to Danielle and Taraji’s points, these actors are putting everything they have into a role and not always getting the recognition they deserve in terms of compensation or awards.
But when you consider the fact that The Color Purple had the second-highest Christmas Day opening in history, you can’t help but ask yourself why movies about Black trauma can perform so well, and often a lot better than movies about Black people doing everyday things.
Previously, when I’ve been asked why I refuse to watch movies about Black trauma, my response has been something along the lines of preferring to see Black people fall in love in a rom com, or make me laugh in a comedy, hell, I’ll even take a Black sci-fi or horror despite being an absolute scaredy cat.
But box office numbers indicate that Black people doing those everyday, mundane things don’t resonate with as many people as movies about Black trauma might. And despite this film flipping the typical sad, dreary and misery-ridden production on its head to share Celie’s story in a much more joyous way, it still deals with some heavy themes.
Classic rom coms like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle each earned more than $225 million at the box office. Classic Black rom coms, though, like Love & Basketball and The Best Man each earned less than $40 million. So despite my own personal reasons for not watching these movies being the absolute discomfort it brings me to see pain and suffering, even if it’s executed with song and dance and is much more joyous than we’ve really ever seen, the numbers show that in some cases, this is how the masses are accustomed to, or even prefer, seeing Black people on the big screen. That only the big movies, like The Color Purple, are worthy of watching.
Danielle said something in her interview that carries a lot of implications. She said she didn’t want to feel like she ‘phoned it in’ and described that as her reasoning for wanting to put so much of herself into the movie, into the mob scene. This is the feeling that so many Black people feel on a daily basis. Whether they’re an accountant for a small company, an athlete, a CEO or a Tony Award nominee starring in one of the biggest films of the year – that people might feel we are undeserving, that we ‘phoned it in’.
Despite a previous conviction to stop watching and engaging with films like these, it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that I cannot join the army of people that choose to close their eyes to us and our stories. The big ones, the little ones and every story in between. And that I, instead, need to join the army of people telling them.