Pratibha Parmar Talks Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth

[Editor's Note: The following post was written by Marian Evans, who blogs at Wellywood Woman. A longer version is available on the blog Gender Across Borders.]

Alice Walker is a global treasure, best known for The Color Purple, the classic novel that Steven Spielberg adapted for the screen, and is now a Broadway musical. As poet Jewelle Gomez says, in an interview with filmmaker Pratibha Parmar:
The Color Purple for me took both the spiritual core of black womanhood and the agonizing reality of black womanhood and brought them together in a place that would allow for hopefulness that I hadn’t ever really seen before, certainly not on the page.
Alice Walker’s life and work extends, however, far beyond The Color Purple. She is also a human rights activist, a poet, a short story writer, an essayist.

Almost twenty years ago, Alice Walker sent multi-award-winning film-maker Pratibha Parmar a copy of her new novel Possessing the Secret of Joy, and invited Pratibha to discuss the possibility of making a documentary about female genital mutilation. As a result of that invitation, they made Warrior Marks, a film and a book. Now, the two women are engaged in a new film project, Beauty in Truth, a feature-length documentary about Alice Walker, for release in 2012, the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Color Purple.

In a recent interview, Pratibha told me that the idea for the film came after she spent a Christmas break watching biographies of ‘iconic’ men. She asked:
Where are the in-depth explorations of women as thinkers and public intellectuals, women as history makers and shapers, women who are inspirational leaders and role models for upcoming generations? Where indeed was a film on Alice Walker who is rightly considered one of 20th Century’s most significant writers?”
Filming of Beauty in Truth, ‘the compelling story of a poet and a human rights activist’ is now 85% complete, including interviews with Steven Spielberg, Gloria Steinem, Yoko Ono and of course Alice Walker herself. Pratibha explained the project as one which starts from strength, because of the history that she and Alice Walker share:
When we made Warrior Marks, it was a challenging and difficult journey primarily because of its subject matter. Out of such shared experienced grew a mutual trust and respect. Recently when we finished shooting an interview, she said, “You know Pratibha, we wouldn’t be having these conversations if we weren’t friends”. So I know that the content of our conversations for the film is precious and I feel honored that she has trusted me with her story.
Pratibha Parmar is a visionary filmmaker, so Beauty in Truth will be an imaginative portrayal of Alice Walker’s writing as well as her life:
With Alice’s story there is of course the gift of her evocative poetry and fiction. So there is an opportunity here to weave some of this writing embedded into visual montages throughout the film, writing that often reflects key moments in her eventful life. It’s a beautiful way to anchor some of these turning points. I am excited to work with animation, graphics and moving images to create these visual vignettes that hopefully do justice to Alice’s writing.
Because of profound changes taking place in the ways independent films are produced and distributed, film funding strategies have changed, even for distinguished filmmakers like Pratibha Parmar. Kali Films’ post-production costs for Beauty in Truth are being raised through Indiegogo. I’m thrilled that Kali Films’ campaign offers me an opportunity to acknowledge Alice Walker’s work as a global citizen, and to do what I can to support a project that—like The Color Purple—will ‘allow for hopefulness’, and will enrich world cinema. Can you help, too?