Fantasia Barrino, célèbre jeune mère célibataire ayant remporté le concours American Idol il y a 20 ans, aujourd’hui âgée de 39 ans, devient un nom mondial en interprétant le rôle de Celie dans la nouvelle adaptation musicale de The Color Purple, produite par Steven Spielberg et Oprah Winfrey. Ce rags-to-riches est d’habitude associé à une certaine hauteur, mais on constate que Fantasia est l’une des personnes les plus généreuses que l’on est pu rencontrer. « Je suis cancer, alors je crois en l’amour, en câlins et prendre soin de tout le monde, » a t-elle ajouté.

Il est difficile de trouver une histoire qui encourage davantage la compassion que The Color Purple. Ce roman épique d’Alice Walker raconte l’histoire des femmes opprimées qui survivaient dans la première moitié du 20e siècle en Géorgie rurale, et l’adaptation cinématographique de cette histoire semble plus actuelle maintenant qu’à son époque de publication. Le récit complexe, douloureux et harmonieux est digne d’une comédie musicale.

  • Celie a guéri Fantasia
  • The Color Purple est sorti aux cinémas le 26 janvier
  • « The Color Purple » raconte l’histoire des femmes opprimées dans la Géorgie rurale du XXe siècle
  • Les acteurs se sont plaints de conditions de travail difficiles pendant le tournage

This is not the first time Barrino has played Celie. At 23, she was on Broadway. “That was my first time ever seeing a Broadway show,” she remembers. “They took me to eat, said: ‘We want you to be Celie,’ and I’m thinking: ‘Are you crazy? Are you drunk? Is something wrong?’”

It wasn’t easy. She had left school at 14 and had no training. “At that time in my life, I didn’t know how to come out of character,” she says. “I took Celie home with me; I woke up with Celie. I cried all the time. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to that. But I’m so glad that I didn’t allow fear to hinder me from who Celie is now. Brilliant, strong, wise, smart, beautiful; all the things that I did not get to see, playing her at the age of 23. I’ve got to see her in a different way, probably because of where I am in life – the woman I’ve become.” That woman is a mother of three, with “a bonus son” and two grandchildren through her husband, the entrepreneur Kendall Taylor.

The musical has not been without controversy. Cast members have complained that normal set standards weren’t observed: they weren’t catered for, they didn’t have transport and their pay was low. The implication is that the film, made almost entirely by people of colour, was done on a shoestring, underpinned by racism. The person who has taken most of the flak for this is Winfrey, rather than Spielberg.

Barrino is careful not to pick sides: “That wasn’t my experience. But this was my first movie. I was so excited to be around all these great actors. I’m such a southern woman; I’ve seen a lot and I’ve been through a lot. Everything in life is not going to come peaches and cream. And Oprah never left – she was right in the back with us. I’ll say we really had a great time and I ate good. I gained a lot of weight.”

In the 1985 movie of the book, Whoopi Goldberg took the role of Celie. Barrino’s mother wouldn’t let her watch it when she was little, because it was too heavy, but she managed to see it anyway. “It was the first time I felt like I had seen me; it was the first time I had heard certain stories be told.” Did she feel pressure to match up to the original performance? “No. [Goldberg] laid down the work so beautifully – it can’t be touched.”

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Her father sued her for $10m after her autobiography was published. She didn’t even say anything that bad, just that he had put music before her education.

That said, when she is described as the embodiment of the American dream, it’s complicated: for sure, she overcame violence and poverty in her early life with pluck and endeavour. But if you have to be this talented to beat those odds, that is not a collective dream; it’s a fantasy.

Barrino interprets the dream differently, anyway, as a question of whether or not you can ever be satisfied: “I have decided to be content with where I am and what I have. If I don’t ever do another movie, I’ve done this one and I did it to the best of my ability. If I will never get another award, I don’t need one, because I woke up this morning and somebody didn’t wake up. This is a blessing that you and I got – be grateful.”

The Color Purple is in UK cinemas from 26 January