Books and films, in essence, are thoughts. Other people’s thoughts, that you think when you read them. You may take them as an opinion and inherently disagree, but these are still thoughts and ideas, and they add to your trove of thoughts and ideas and influence you. That is all there is to say about that.
I was not worried that The Colour Purple would influence me negatively, because if anything, it is the story of strength and perseverance through the roughest of lives. But I remember reading Alice Walker as a child, and Toni Morrison, and I remember feeling terrified and revolted, and wishing that the BOOK, you know, the symbol of happiness and life and adventure, wasn’t so vicious and dark. I kept trying to pick it up again, hoping this time it wouldn’t be as gruesome, but it was, and I felt violated. Of course, I am not blaming the books. The books are wonderful, and helped to highlight to many unfortunate things in the world, and gave a voice to previously unheard voices. But I was only nine, and I wasn’t allowed to read it but I still did, so I only had myself to blame.
And so, when I read The Colour Purple, I was tentative and afraid. I was worried I would read more terrible things that would leave a nasty taste in my mouth, no matter they were the harsh reality, and still are the harsh reality of so many women around the earth. I don’t want to know that these things can happen, I don’t want to read about them in sordid detail, and hear the literary thoughts of those who inflict them, because these thoughts are the real thoughts that have been thought by real people. People who, if I saw on a day to day basis, I would probably avoid. I would. I think I would. I wouldn’t want to associate with them, because I wouldn’t want to learn what was in such a toxic brain. I wouldn’t want to familiarise myself with those kinds of thoughts. And so, when such thoughts, even when married to GOOD ones, are in my hands, in my living room, on my sofa, I feel violated. I feel obnoxious and worried and disgusted and heartbroken.
I watched the most recent season of Orange is the new Black, and while it was raw and honest and reflective of what is true for so many black people in America, I felt that it was poor. Why do the white people get good endings? Why did the black girl have to be condemned, and the Mexican girl get deported? Life is hopeless if you’re ‘coloured’ in America, this show seems to say. There is no hope for you.
I think that is a shockingly poor message. I think that while reflecting on what really does happen, there should be something to incite some change, too. Some flicker of hope. Something to suggest that there is a way out, that we have to keep fighting, not just give up. Was this show made by white people? This is black, this is white. That is the message I got. And that is how it is.
And reading The Colour Purple, right after watching the last season of Orange is the New Black, opened my eyes wide. Things have only changed in the past hundred or so years in terms of technology and social perception. Things have not changed when it comes to how non-white people are treated in America. But Alice Walker comes out soaring, compared to the makers of OITNB. She screams from the rooftops that all is not lost, that there is hope, that a poor, black woman can overcome her adversaries and succeed. In spite of them, because of them.