The Color Purple, which hit the theatres on Christmas 2023, has garnered positive reviews from fans and critics alike. This is how Taraji P. Henson became Shug and felt sexier than ever in any role.
The Color Purple, produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, arrived just in time to save Christmas from a music-less existence. Vibrant, touching, mesmerizing, the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-winning novel of the same name, follows the story of African American Celie and her life in the early 1900s in the South.
The story of her tragic life continues for a while, before she forms life-saving connections with sensual Blues singer Shug Avery, who is also her husband’s mistress, and Sofia, her stepson’s girlfriend for a time. Despite being a supporting character, Shug Avery plays a significant role, both textual and sub-textual.
Though she serves to further Celie on her journey and be a lifelong connection and friend cum mentor for her, Shug also exceeds the societal restrictions imposed on women of her race and profession, by becoming an empowering as well as stylish icon for all women, irrespective of race.
Director Blitz Bazawule and his makeup and hairstyling team for The Color Purple had ‘a clear vision’ of how Shug Avery would be. This was due to Bazawule’s series of meticulous storyboard sketches, that he had prepared even before pitching the idea to Spielberg and Winfrey.
As a result, it took little trouble for the team to develop the sexy, beautiful, and empowering woman that Shug Avery would eventually be. In a discussion with Variety, hair and makeup artist Tym Wallace, costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck, actress Taraji P. Henson, and Bazawule himself, shared their bits on how the character came to live.
The Mythos of Shug Avery began from the tightening close shot of Mister’s bedside table with a signed photo of her. Since previously she was like a whispered lore, the reveal in the bedside photo, with the camera zooming in on it also reveals her symbolic significance as shared by Bazawule.
Since the film is set in a rustic environment, Shug Avery comes as a beacon from another privileged, better existence, of which the film’s characters can only dream of. Every detail about her attire, from her hair to her costumes, was carefully planned to add a sensual and feminine touch to her character, that wielded her beauty like a sword.
Hairstylist Tym Wallace reveals how he made Shug’s hair special, so that the audience noticed something extraordinary about her, “When Shug is first introduced, it’s the early 1920s. She had a textured, deep side part finger wave tousled bob. That was her signature look throughout.”
As for costume designer Francine, she opted for gloves and jewelry to add an extra oomph to her wardrobe. Since Shug was a rule breaker who managed to make it big, despite hailing from Mister’s town, it meant that her outfits had to be different, not from the period but the people. In one particular scene in the film, when Shug and Celie are talking about the color purple, Francine made the former don a “beautiful Sherbert orange chiffon dress”.
She did not want Shug to defy her chronology, but she had to sport her vibrant persona. Also, since the era had performers sporting skintight costumes, Francine “wanted that for Shug because she was all about sexy and showing her womanness and strength.”
After all this work was put into creating the alluring beauty of Shug, it is no wonder when Shug star Henson admitted, “That’s the sexist I’ve ever felt in any role that I’ve ever played. I felt sexy and regal because that’s who Shug was.”