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How many oscar nominations did the color purple get?

The Color Purple is a 1985 American drama film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Menno Meyjes. It is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel of the same name by Alice Walker. The film tells the story of Celie, a young African-American girl in the early 1900s American South who endures racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression as she struggles to find her self-worth. The Color Purple was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.

About The Color Purple Novel and Film

The Color Purple novel was published in 1982 and won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The book follows Celie, a poor, uneducated, 14-year-old girl living in the American South. She writes letters to God detailing her life, which consists of constant rape by her father and physical abuse by her husband, Albert. Celie struggles to find love and self-worth. The story takes place over 40 years, chronicling her hardships and personal growth.

Steven Spielberg adapted the novel into a film version in 1985. Spielberg stayed close to the source material, keeping the setting in rural Georgia and casting mostly African American actors. However, some elements of Walker’s story were softened for the screenplay. The film stars Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, Danny Glover as Albert, and Oprah Winfrey in her film debut as Sofia. It was one of the first major studio films to depict the experience of black women in a positive light.

Oscar Nominations for The Color Purple

At the 58th Academy Awards in 1986, The Color Purple received 11 Oscar nominations in the following categories:

Category Nominee
Best Picture Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Quincy Jones
Best Actress Whoopi Goldberg
Best Supporting Actress Margaret Avery
Best Supporting Actress Oprah Winfrey
Best Adapted Screenplay Menno Meyjes
Best Cinematography Allen Daviau
Best Art Direction Bo Welch, Linda DeScenna
Best Costume Design Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Best Makeup Ken Chase
Best Original Score Quincy Jones, Jeremy Lubbock, Rod Temperton, Caiphus Semenya, Andraé Crouch, Chris Boardman

This tied for the most nominations for any film that year along with Out of Africa. Prior to The Color Purple, only one film directed by an African American (Gordon Parks’s The Learning Tree) had ever been nominated for Best Picture.

Reception and Impact of the Oscar Nominations

The 11 nominations for The Color Purple were a landmark achievement for a film with a predominantly black cast and creative team. The multiple acting nominations for black women, including Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg in her major feature film debut, were especially significant.

However, the film failing to win any of the major categories it was nominated for caused controversy. Many felt the Academy voters were biased against the film due to its African American themes and characters. Roger Ebert wrote: “Although The Color Purple was nominated for 11 Oscars, it won none, and cynics suggested that the voters were either unable or unwilling to recognize that a film with what they saw as an all-black theme could be as worthy as more mainstream Hollywood movies.”

Despite not winning Oscars, the nominations helped make the film a box office success, grossing over $140 million worldwide. They also cemented Steven Spielberg’s reputation as a prestige director. For black representation in film, The Color Purple’s nominations symbolized the progress that had been made but also the progress yet to be achieved.

Academy Award Winners in 1986

While The Color Purple came away empty-handed in terms of wins, the big winner at the 1986 Oscars was Out of Africa. That film swept many of the major categories:

Category Winning Nominee For
Best Picture Sydney Pollack Out of Africa
Best Director Sydney Pollack Out of Africa
Best Actor William Hurt Kiss of the Spider Woman
Best Actress Geraldine Page The Trip to Bountiful
Best Supporting Actor Don Ameche Cocoon
Best Supporting Actress Anjelica Huston Prizzi’s Honor

Out of Africa also won for Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction, and Sound. Geraldine Page’s win prevented Whoopi Goldberg from becoming the first black performer to win Best Actress. However, Goldberg would go on to win Best Supporting Actress several years later for Ghost.

Analysis of The Color Purple’s Oscar Results

While popular with audiences, The Color Purple failed to win over Academy voters for several possible reasons:

  • Voters may have been reluctant to honor a film with an all-black cast and a black female protagonist.
  • The film’s unflinching look at issues like racism, domestic violence, and incest may have made some voters uncomfortable.
  • Steven Spielberg’s direction was found lacking by some critics compared to past work.
  • It competed against several other acclaimed films like Out of Africa, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi’s Honor, and Witness.
  • Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey were first-time movie actors so lacked prior recognition.

In retrospect, many feel that The Color Purple deserved more recognition. It is now considered one of the great book-to-film adaptations and an important milestone for black representation in Hollywood. The many nominations indicated the industry could not ignore the excellence of the black talent involved. But the awarded trophies still tended to go to films with predominantly white casts and creative teams.

Later Oscar Recognition for Black Films

In the decades after The Color Purple, the Academy Awards gradually became more inclusive. Some notable Oscar wins for black performers, directors, and films include:

  • Denzel Washington for Best Supporting Actor – Glory (1990)
  • Whoopi Goldberg for Best Supporting Actress – Ghost (1991)
  • Denzel Washington for Best Actor – Training Day (2002)
  • Halle Berry for Best Actress – Monster’s Ball (2002)
  • Jamie Foxx for Best Actor – Ray (2005)
  • Forest Whitaker for Best Actor – The Last King of Scotland (2007)
  • Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress – The Help (2012)
  • Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress – 12 Years a Slave (2014)
  • Moonlight for Best Picture (2017)

The #OscarsSoWhite controversy surrounding the 2016 nominations catalyzed further efforts for diversity. While there is still room for progress, The Color Purple’s 11 nominations now look like an early turning point that helped pave the way for greater representation.


The 11 Academy Award nominations for The Color Purple recognized the groundbreaking achievements of the film’s predominantly African American cast and crew. Though it did not take home any Oscars, the nominations highlighted the excellence of black filmmaking talent both in front of and behind the camera. The snubs also fueled ongoing debates about racial bias among Oscar voters that persists in modified form today. While 1985 proved too soon for Oscar glory, The Color Purple’s nominations announced the arrival of new voices in Hollywood that could not be ignored.