You should know the name Shug Avery. She’s only one of the biggest and boldest characters from one of Alice Walker’s most famous works, The Color Purple. There are certain movies that stand the test of time, and The Color Purple is one of those classics. There’s something so special about gathering with family for the holidays and watching this slice of black life unfold on our screens while we recite the most famous lines, like “Helllll naw!” and “You told Harpo to beat me!”
In the 1985 film adaptation of the book, we got to see a physical manifestation of Shug Avery, played by Margaret Avery. In the movie, we’re introduced to Shug—whose name suggests sweetness—with the iconic line “You sho’ is ugly!” directed at Celie, the docile and insecure wife of Albert (aka Mr.).
Shug represented a woman who was a departure from the women of the first half of the 20th century. She was stubborn, reckless, firm, selfish, honest, loud, lusty and likely the most free-spirited woman of her time. She was admired by men and women alike, but not only because of the glitz and glamour she put on full display in elaborate red-sequined dresses and feathery headpieces. Shug was the freedom that most women of that time wouldn’t have even dared to dream of.
Shug was a free black woman at a time that didn’t allow any women freedoms.
Celie was obsessed with Shug. She wanted to know what Shug saw in her husband, Mr., and eventually was drawn in by Shug’s undeniable magnetism and was able to explore her own sexuality.
Shug was sex-positive before sex positivity existed. She was fluid in her desires and allowed herself to explore them with reckless abandon.
I’ve watched The Color Purple an embarrassing number of times, and for me, Shug has always stuck out. She was the kind of woman I could see myself being (minus the whole sleeping-with-someone-else’s-husband thing): free to come and go as she pleased, fearless enough to ask for and get what she wanted, well-traveled and adored onstage; and above all else, she embodied the actual color purple. When you mix the colors blue and red, you’re presented with the color purple. Shug was a perfect mix of the fire and passion of red, and the cool and calm of blue.
I say all of this about Shug Avery to suggest that her carefree and open-minded lifestyle might just be one from which to gain inspiration. Alice Walker knows this, which is likely why, in her book The Temple of My Familiar, Walker included an excerpt titled, “The Gospel According to Shug Avery.” As I was reading it, I was overwhelmed by Shug’s levelheaded voice of reason regarding sexuality, humanity, racism and more.
Equality has always been a fight in this world, and a character like Shug Avery shows you that despite the world’s rules, she intends to get her own piece of the pie. In Donald Trump’s America, we face all the isms that could ever exist, and each day there seems to be a new battle to fight. If only the world would subscribe to Shug’s gospel, maybe we’d be living in a better place ... or at least someone like Trump wouldn’t have been elected president.
We should all be like Shug Avery, I say. Here are just a few pieces of her gospel:
HELPED are those who are enemies of their own racism; they shall live in harmony with the citizens of this world, and not with those of their ancestors, which has passed away, and which they shall never see again.
HELPED are those too busy living to respond when they are wrongfully attacked: on their walks they shall find mysteries so intriguing as to distract them from every blow.
HELPED are those who are content to be themselves; they will never lack mystery in their lives and the joys of self-discovery will be constant.
HELPED are those who live in quietness, knowing neither brand name nor fad; they shall live every day as if in eternity, and each moment shall be full as it is long.
HELPED are those who strive to give up their anger; their reward will be that in any confrontation their first thoughts will never be of violence or war.
HELPED are those who love the lesbian, the gay, and the straight, as they love the sun, the moon, and the stars. None of their children, nor any of their ancestors, nor any parts of themselves, shall be hidden from them.
Now go forth and live your life like Shug Avery.