Long before the Nicolas Chartier/vote-for-The Hurt Locker-not-Avatar e-mail and the Robert Wise/Miramax’s Gangs of New York Oscar ads caused a stir, lots of eyebrows were raised when both Margaret Avery and God found themselves taking part in the Oscar race. That was back in early 1986, when Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, co-produced and scored by Quincy Jones, was being touted as one of the year’s strongest contenders for the Best Picture Oscar.
Avery, who (deservedly) received widespread praise for her performance as the woman who helps Whoopi Goldberg’s abused character unleash her inner strength, had landed the role after Tina Turner turned it down. “When I learned what an incredible amount of talent they were seeing,” Avery later remarked, “I got down on my knees and prayed, ‘Give me the confidence to go on.'”
When it came time for the Academy Award nominations, the likely nominee went a step further, placing an ad in the trades on the last day of the voting period. The ad, which featured a picture of Avery as her Color Purple character “Shug” Avery, read:
My name is Margaret Avery. I knows dat I been blessed by Alice Walker, Steven Spielberg, and Quincy Jones, who gave me the part of “Shug” Avery in The Color Purple.
Now I is up for one of the nominations fo’ Best Supporting Actress alongst with some fine, talented ladies that I is proud to be in the company of.
Well, God, I guess the time has come fo’ the Academy’s voters to decide whether I is one of the Best Supporting Actresses this year or not! Either way, thank you, LORD, for the opportunity.
Your little daughter,
Avery did get the nomination. (“I will always thank God that Tina Turner was not able to do The Color Purple,” she would tell Oscar Red Carpet host Army Archerd.) But even though she later said that The Color Purple author Alice Walker had approved the ad, the actress was accused of displaying poor judgment – partly for invoking God, partly because her character in the movie doesn’t talk that way.
Rebutting the various accusations of tastelessness, Avery later told People, “That ad cost me a kitchen stove. It’s easy to give lip service to thanking God, but I wanted to do something that would force me to give up something. I had been wanting a stove for ten years.”
But stove or no stove, the Best Supporting Actress Oscar that year ultimately went to Anjelica Huston for Prizzi’s Honor.
Photo: Warner Bros.
Quotes: Mason Wiley and Damien Bona’s Inside Oscar
“I’s married now!” “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple and don’t notice it.” “You sho’ is ugly!”
Ms Avery, I have always been enamored with your entrancing performance as Shug Avery. A dynamic character that had real heart behind a facade and father issues, she still managed to be what her best friend needed, even defying Albert to make sure Celie could read Nettie’s letters!
I sincerely doubt you’ll ever see this, but should you, know that I found the ad to be more tasteful than most. I could hear the words practically rolling off your tongue. And while you never sang the songs, (Ms. Celie’s Blues or God Is Trying To Tell You Something) your lip sync performance and heart in it was amazing.
And… I think when I heard you say “See, daddy, sinners have soul too…” I had goosebumps… six words touched me, the pain, love, and other emotions in your depiction of Shug was amazing. Thank you,
Nathaniel Michael Jasper
Miss Margaret Avery - Years have passed and I am still entranced with your role as Sug and I can’t stop singing your songs from the Color Purple. Thank you for such a stellar role.