American women, Hollywood men, and the depiction of women and their relationships with each other: "The Color of Purple" and "Fried Green Tomatoes"
White, Carolyn Joyce
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As more women authors write about women's lives and relationships with each other, their audience has grown. This popularity has captured the interest of Hollywood (still predominantly male) which finds the ready-made audience of a popular novel difficult to resist. Two popular late twentieth century novels by American women—Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" (1982) and Fannie Flagg's "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Strip Cafe" (1987)—were adapted to film by male directors—Steven Spielberg and Jon Avnet, respectively. Both novels present special problems for adaptation due to both the construction and subject matter; each film involved the novelist to an unusual degree. In Walker's novel the women struggle against the isolation imposed by a sexist and/or racist society and form a new community free of gender-defined roles. Spielberg's film (1985) manages to remain faithful to many of the details and part of the spirit but confuses reconciliation with a return to the fathers. In Flagg's novel the courage, love and support of two women in the first half of the century leads to the forging of another bond between two women in the century's second half. Though the former closely approximates a courtship and marriage and the latter more closely resembles a mother-daughter relationship, both enrich the lives of the women involved. Jon Avnet's adaptation (1991), while changing details and avoiding any overt suggestion of a lesbian relationship, manages to convey the strength, freedom and joy of the two relationships and the influence of the past on the present. The directors do well when portraying fnendship and mother-daughter or sister relationships but have difficulty depicting physical love between women or attempts to break free of patriarchal society's gender role concepts.