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Alice Walker: Antigay Actress as Color Purple's Celie Is 'Betrayal'

Alice Walker: Antigay Actress as Color Purple's Celie Is 'Betrayal'

Alice Walker

An actress who'd made homophobic comments was fired from the role in a production of the story's musical version earlier this year.

Acclaimed author Alice Walker says it would be a "betrayal" for a homophobic actress to play the role of Celie Johnson in a musical adaptation of Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple.

Oluwaseyi Omooba, who was set to portray Celie in a production of the musical that ran earlier this year at the Leicester Curve and then the Birmingham Hippodrome in England, was fired from the show after actor Aaron Lee Lambert shared a 2014 Facebook post in which Omooba called homosexuality a sin, saying it's "legal" but not "right," according to the New York Daily News. She also stated her belief that people are not born gay.

Lambert said Omooba would be a "hypocrite" if she played Celie, who finds love with a woman after having been abused by men, while holding homophobic views.

Last month Omooba said she plans to sue the Leicester Curve over her firing and the Global Artists Agency for dropping her as a client. The daughter of a prominent British anti-LGBTQ activist, Omooba contends she has suffered discrimination because of her Christian beliefs.

Walker had been silent on the matter until last week, when she sent a letter to Color Purple producer Scott Sanders and authorized him to share it on Facebook. She expressed "heartfelt compassion" for Omooba, then explained how she came to create Celie.

Celie "is based on the life of my grandmother, Rachel, a kind and loving woman brutally abused by my grandfather. ... It is safe to say, after a frightful life serving and obeying abusive men, who raped in place of 'making love,' my grandmother, like Celie, was not attracted to men," Walker wrote.

"She was, in fact, very drawn to my grandfather's lover, a beautiful woman who was kind to her, the only grown person who ever seemed to notice how remarkable and creative she was. In giving Celie the love of this woman, in every way love can be expressed, I was clear in my intention to demonstrate that she too, like all of us, deserved to be seen, appreciated, and deeply loved by someone who saw her as whole and worthy."

Walker, who has had relationships with both men and women, said she believes "sexual love can be extraordinarily holy, whoever might be engaging in it," and that she urges readers to question the scriptures of all religions. "Love, however it may be expressed, is to be honored and welcomed into the light of our common survival as a consciously human, race."

"Playing the role of 'Celie' while not believing in her right to be loved, or to express her love in any way she chooses, would be a betrayal of women's right to be free," she concluded. "As an elder, I urge all of us to think carefully about what I am saying, even as you, Oluwaseyi Omooba, sue the theatre company for voiding your contract. This is just an episode in your life; your life, your work, and your growth, will continue, in the real world. A world we must make safe for women and children, female and male. And the greatest freedom of all is the freedom to be your authentic self."

The Color Purple was adapted into a 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg, in which Whoopi Goldberg was Oscar-nominated for playing Celie. The first Broadway production of the musical, in 2005-2006, brought a Tony Award to LaChanze for portraying Celie, and Cynthia Erivo won a Tony in 2016 for playing the role in a revival.

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