On her breakout role as Celie in The Color Purple...

Alice Walker's The Color Purple has had many iterations over the years following the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in 1982. Since then, the novel has been taken to Broadway and now theaters twice. The latest production of The Color Purple, which hit theaters Christmas Day last year, meshed electrifying musical performances with heart-wrenching theatrical portrayals to create the latest adaptation to the body of work.

The new cast — with some surprise cameos — bestowed a breath of fresh air onto the classic production. The musical adaptation starred Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson, Colman Domingo, Corey Hawkins, Ciara, H.E.R., Halle Bailey, and breakout star Phylicia Pearl Mpasi.

Mpasi portrayed young Celie opposite of Barrino's role as the adult version of the character. As cast announcements were made public, social media unanimously agreed that the resemblance between the two was uncanny, to say the least. However, it was nothing that Mpasi hadn't heard before, in fact, it was something she had been told her whole life.

"I've been told so much of my life that I looked like her," Mpasi gleamed. "This has been written in the stars forever since she got on the scene for me to play an iteration of her."

Mpasi's face lit up recalling the time when she first met Barrino after confirming that she secured her position in the film.

Phylicia Pearl Mpasi — On The Rise

"The director [Blitz Bazawule] wanted me to meet with the person playing Celie, and I was like, 'Oh, great, I'm going to find out who's playing Celie and we'll connect.' Boom! Fantasia Barrino appears [on Zoom]," Mpasi says, now speaking in a sing-song voice similar to Barrino. "'Hey baby girl, I'm so excited for you. It's gonna be so great.'"

Celie's character barred the trauma of sexual assault, domestic violence, and oppression, which had an internal outcome on the character's self-esteem, especially as a dark-skinned Black woman. Mpasi recollected her own internal battles during her portrayal of Celie, which helped remedy her own wounds as she related to the colorism the character faced.

"Some of Celie's trauma around not feeling beautiful and in the way in which they talk about her and view her as a dark-skinned woman I have felt in my life," Mpasi recalled. "I was grateful that I could pull from that. I feel like playing Celie healed so much of my inner child, and the limiting beliefs of what I would take in the way people would speak about other dark-skinned women like myself."

Mpasi studied as much as she could for the role despite the lack of research on the historical viewpoints on young women in the early 1900s and examined the source material to portray Celie. It took a lot of surrendering herself to the character despite the similarities the two shared, and with that, she was able to lean on the cast for their unwavering support.

Mpasi dubbed Henson as the "mama bear" of the group and was open to offer advice and assistance whenever. Henson previously made headlines for conditions on set which Mpasi touched upon saying, "You know, it's unfortunate it's being spun in a way that's, you know, degrading or it was empowering. We did have trouble on set and whether we spoke to her or not about it, she took care of it."

As for the men on set, Hawkins and Domingo, the actress said they were "kind and loving" and "super protective" of her on set.

Barrino and Brooks took on the big sister roles for Mpasi allowing her to take space and make it a priority to care for herself along the process. Bailey, who portrayed the younger Nettie, Mpasi described her as her "partner in crime" and "anchor" on set.

Mpasi displayed her vocal talents as well as her acting prowess in the film and teased that it wouldn't be beside

her to possibly one day release an album. "I not so secretly love folk music, so I'd love to do an Americana folk type album and then just one pop song, like 'On My Mama,'" she said referring to Victoria Monét's Grammy-nominated single.

Just like Monét's record, which has been a gleaming ex­ample of self-reassurance, Mpasi added the encourage­ment she'd like to give the next generation of budding talent.

"I think the biggest thing that I did or that, I believe, is that there are no rules. I got very clear on not only what I offer to the world talent-wise, but how I wanted to use that talent. I think once you are clear on the career you want to have and the impact you want to have then you just ask for inspired action."

As for what's next, Mpasi is nominated for Outstanding Breakthrough Performance in a Motion Picture at this year's NAACP Awards. She's also creating space for what lies ahead. "There are some projects I know that I am dying to be a part of but I'm focusing a lot of time on developing my own projects," she said excitedly, adding, "Some things are definitely coming to fruition."


— Photography By Arnold Turner

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