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Shug Avery knows how to make an entrance.
The sultry nightclub singer lights up a room, and a swamp, in this scene from “The Color Purple,” the film musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel. At the beginning of the sequence, a performance of the song “Push Da Button,” Shug (Taraji P. Henson), wearing a shimmering red dress and a feathered headdress, arrives at a juke joint on a barge.
The director Blitz Bazawule, narrating the sequence, said that his production designer, Paul D. Austerberry, suggested shooting it on location, rather than on a soundstage. They found a swamp in Georgia that they drained and refilled, to build the juke joint in which Shug performs.
Bazawule said that it took two weeks of rehearsal to figure out the blocking, with choreography by Fatima Robinson. It was “very important that we gave Taraji an opportunity to shine,” he explained. Henson does all of her own singing in the scene, having taken vocal lessons to prepare for the role.
An idea for a dance break while the lights are shut off came to Bazawule when he was on set early one day, before shooting, and saw the environmental lights on. “The blue light started to bleed through,” he recalled. “I said to myself, ‘I think that’s it. If we can go from light to darkness this way, I think we could have something special.’”
Read the “Color Purple” review.
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