Pratibha Parmar: Interview

And do you intend to keep exploring gay themes in your work?

I think my queer sensibility will inform everything I do and anything I do. So, in that sense, it's a given. It's like, you look at Todd Haynes's film "I'm Not There" and you can see there's a queer sensibility there, although it's not a gay film as such.

Actually three or four of the authors that I totally read all the time, all of them to my knowledge were straight males... and all of them have since come out as gay since that time.


And it's like, ALL of them?! How could I pick four and they all end up gay?

That's amazing. You must have some radar thing going on.

Yeah, it was a bit too right on as far as the gay sensibility. And what is the next project?

There's a number of projects at the moment. They're all in early stages. But the one that's most advanced is a feature documentary on the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, who wrote the Color Purple. It's about her life and her writing and her impact on American culture as an icon.

She's right across the bridge isn't she?

Yeah, she lives in Berkeley. I'm going over there tomorrow.

The musical is also playing in town, if you haven't seen that yet.

Oh, no, I went to the opening in New York like a year and a half ago.

Yeah, I saw it twice already.

It's wonderful, isn't it? I just love it. I love that song, 'What About Love?' It's totally a lesbian moment. It doesn't dilute it in any way at all. And I remember at the opening night, being there, and like Tina Turner was sitting behind us, and Spike Lee was in front, and Jamie Foxx was around, David Bowie, and all of these... Oprah was there. Everyone. And people were crying when that song came up, there was just crying. It was so moving.

Some of the people in San Francisco are from the original Broadway cast. I was there on opening night, and they brought Alice out onstage at the end, and they read a proclamation from the Mayor declaring it Alice Walker Day in San Francisco.

How nice.

What attracted you to that project?

I've been friends with Alice for about 17 years now. We made a documentary many years ago called Warrior Marks, and we've just been really close friends, so I want to make this film about her and her life, honoring her. She's an incredible woman and I don't want our heroines lost. Their lives have to be documented while they're still alive.

After seeing the musical, it reinforced that I've seen the Spielberg movie, and now the musical, but I've never read the text. So, I have to go back and read that at some point.

Oh, that's the best thing, actually. The book is the best.

Yeah, it's odd to see all of the derivative works, especially since I'm a novelist. I appreciate the novel as an art form more, but it's easier to spend two hours in a theater.

But actually the novel is so easy and quick to read. It's just beautiful. It really is beautiful. Actually, I rewatched the movie and I think it's alright. I prefer the musical, because I feel it's truer to the heart of what the novel is, but still good for Spielberg to actually have done it.

Well, Whoopi and Oprah, can't go wrong there.


The funny part now is... can you imagine someone saying 'There's a new movie coming out starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey?' It would just be 'What kind of train wreck is that going to be?'

Right, right...

But there was some little spark of magic back in the 80s made that work.

And they were both new, they'd never acted before. Whoopi was a stand-up and that movie made her as an actress.

And the whole Oprah/Harpo thing is still strange, how they are reversed like that.

I know, isn't that weird?

How could the character be Harpo in the novel, and it also be her name backwards...

But that's a complete coincidence. It's a spooky coincidence. I don't think Alice had any idea. It was Quincy who chose Oprah, actually.