Phylicia Pearl Mpasi ’15 says bigscreen debut in ‘The Color Purple’ has been ‘the greatest gift’

Mpasi portrays young "Celie" in the film, which is adapted from the stage musical version of "The Color Purple."

Phylicia Pearl Mpasi ’15 had shifted professionally from stage acting, with several years under her belt on the Broadway National Tour of Disney’s “The Lion King,” to writing when she decided to pursue a new audition. Work was underway on a film adaptation of the stage musical version of “The Color Purple,” which was based on the iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and was later made into a film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Oprah Winfrey.

Phylicia Pearl Mpasi ’15 as young Celie in “The Color Purple.” (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Mpasi recently told People magazine that she decided to look up auditions for the new film on a whim, hoping to land the lead role of the adult “Celie.” “I just happened to see that they were casting for it and were willing to cast through open submissions online,” she told People, adding that she hoped to get the role of Celie. “So I submitted a tape and I asked my agent, ‘Hey, can you just follow up with them?’ I got good feedback, but I was told no initially.”

That whim led to a wonderful opportunity for the Elon Music Theatre program graduate, with Mpasi making her bigscreen debut in “The Color Purple,” which premiered in London in November and will hit cinemas in the United States on Christmas Day.

Mpasi told People that when she was contacted by the casting director about the playing young Celie, which began a whirlwind process that Mpasi said was like being “shot out of a cannon.” Mpasi later shared about the experience on the Jennifer Hudson show joined by Winfrey and other members of the cast.

Mpasis shared with People about one particular shoot, the first in which she was alone in front of the camera. Shot in the rain, Mpasi said she felt “very abandoned and very alone” since the crews were shooting from a distance to keep the equipment dry.

With that experience still resonating with her, Oprah Winfrey reached out. From the People article:

She says she went to a yoga class, and as she was leaving she received a text from Winfrey asking if Mpasi could give her a call. At first, she says she thought it was a prank from one of her friends, but when she answered the phone, Winfrey was on the line.

“She just called to say, ‘You were never alone. I was there the whole time watching you, protecting you, supporting you. You just had it so much, I had to let you be in that character and I had to let you be in that moment, and the work you did was absolutely beautiful,'” Mpasi recalls of the conversation. “And she thanked me.”

“I think it is just an indication of what this film was — it’s support, it’s empowerment, it is people that we look up to and people that have walked this walk already pouring into a new generation.”

Oprah later shared on Instagram about selecting Mpasi to portray the young “Celie,” a decision that came after Fantasia Barrino was cast as adult “Celie.”

Mpasi has posted on Instagram about her experience filming “The Color Purple,” saying that “to be in the same breath as these living legends has been the greatest gift.”