(Pop Culture)

In ‘The Color Purple’, Makeup Is All About Celebrating Melanin

Take a behind-the-scenes look at the new film.

Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Pictures
Fantasia Barrino and Taraji P. Henson in The Color Purple

No easy feat, when Carol Rasheed signed on as lead makeup artist for the 2023 film adaptation of The Color Purple, she was tasked with bringing fresh life to one of the most beloved pieces of American literature. This interpretation of the best-selling novel turned sweeping, award-winning epic tells the interconnected stories of a group of Black women in the American South through a big-budget musical with powerhouse songs that connect the timeless tale to a new generation.

Hearing Rasheed lay out her initial plan to tackle the Blitz Bazawule-directed movie, it becomes immediately clear that the creative’s mind operates on an entirely different plane. Not only did she create distinct, recognizable looks for the leading actors and massive cast of extras alike, but Rasheed had to consider all sorts of strategic angles, using her masterful cosmetics skills to further build out the story, settings, and legendary characters. This 2023 iteration features a star-studded cast, including Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P. Henson and Danielle Brooks, all of whom lend their impressive vocals to the film.

Ahead, Rasheed takes TZR on a behind-the-scenes look at The Color Purple musical adaptation, in theaters Dec. 25.

Setting The Scene

One thing Rasheed makes clear from the outset is, even if you grew up with the original 1985 film adaptation starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, audiences can expect a totally different take with the stunningly scored songs. “The music really drives the story,” she shares, explaining what a unique situation it is to create for an intellectual property that so many are already familiar with. “[People] already have a preconceived notion about what it's going to be,” Rasheed says. Along with reviewing the original movie, the makeup artist dug deep into historical research from the story’s time period and setting — turn-of-the-century Georgia — sifting through photographs, learning about trends of the era, and what real people were actually wearing.

(L-R) FANTASIA BARRINO and TARAJI P. HENSON on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ bold new take on a classic, “THE COLOR PURPLE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.Photo by Lynsey Weatherspoon, Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Pictures

From a logistical standpoint, Rasheed also examined the character’s personal journeys through the years, using cosmetic special effects and techniques to age them, rough them up, and make them shine in accordance with each scene and timeline. She references Celie specifically, played by Barrino, for example. When audiences first meet her, Rasheed tells TZR, she’s younger, in a bad situation, and is mistreated. From a makeup perspective, she says that requires reflecting those experiences in the character’s appearance. “Her skin didn't look as glowy, I discolored under her eyes a little bit, took all the color out, the rosiness out of her lips,” she explains. The process was so transformative that Barrino told Rasheed that her time in the makeup chair helped her fully get into character.

Managing A Massive Set

One of the most exciting elements of the new musical movie is its huge scale and dedication to on-location filming. Juggling the main cast and the lengthy roster of background actors alike, who all had to look straight out of the 1900s American South, was no small feat — especially considering it was filmed largely outdoors in Savannah in the summer of 2020. Rasheed had to adapt and plan out equally what and how much to do to each performer under a strict schedule, which was part of her larger research and development focus prior to production. “In the mornings, I had about 45 minutes to do [Barrino’s] makeup,” she says, and about 30 minutes of that was dedicated to camouflaging the star’s intricate tattoos. Rasheed needed to find a product that wouldn’t melt right off in the summer heat, so she turned to an airbrush device and a U.K.-based line called Maekup to cover them all up. “It stayed on, I didn't have to worry about having to go in and touch it up — it was incredible.”

FANTASIA BARRINO as Celie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ bold new take on a classic, “THE COLOR PURPLE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Eli Adé, Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Pictures

Her work on the movie’s male leads had to be just as detailed. For Colman Domingo’s portrayal of Albert “Mister” Johnson, there too was significant focus on his aging face and reflecting his life changes through special effects makeup. “There were scenes with Colman...where he needed to look like he had a week’s worth of growth of facial hair that I had to lay on, because he was clean shaven throughout the movie with the exception of his mustache.” That required hand-placing hairs for a hyper-real effect.

Rasheed and Domingo on-set of The Color Purple.Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Pictures

A Powerful Message

Of course, the reason The Color Purple’s been an American mainstay since Alice Walker wrote her 1982 novel is because of its unflinching depictions of how life was for Black women in the American South as well as the hopeful message and joyous note the story ends on. Accordingly, Rasheed says one major element she discussed with Bazawule was celebrating Black skin tones throughout the film. “He said, ‘I really want people to see us and all our beauty and all our glory,’” Rasheed explains. For her, that took the form of minimal makeup on her stars, instead focusing on enhancing their natural features to actualize the characters. “I really believe that we hit the mark on that, because I got so many comments and compliments about how rich our skin looks on camera. Those are the comments that I've been getting from so many people, about how the melanin was popping in the movie, how good the people look.”

(Center) DANIELLE BROOKS as Sophia in Warner Bros. Pictures’ bold new take on a classic, “THE COLOR PURPLE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.Photo by Eli Adé, Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the coolest behind-the-scenes facts about the film is that, per Rasheed’s design and vision, none of the leading ladies wore the same shade of red lipstick. She handled Barrino’s custom mix, while each of the other main characters had distinct lip colors to suit their stories and spirits. In a brilliant full-circle moment, Rasheed’s just released her own line of lipsticks inspired by these beloved fictional heroines. The Evolution Of Rouge is a trio of brilliant reds, tied to corresponding affirmations. “It was just the perfect timing to be able to have a product that I can really say had a story connection to it,” she says.

Based on the looks Rasheed created alone, legions of moviegoers are about to leave theaters feeling rather inspired themselves.