Yesterday, Oprah Winfrey made cinematic history by reuniting the cast of one of the greatest films of all time: The Color Purple. This year marks the film’s 25th anniversary and Oprah’s reunion was a must-see for any fan of the Stephen Spielberg-directed film, which was based on the book by the iconic Alice Walker.
The world also got to see a grown-up Desreta Jackson, who was 13 years old when she played Young Celie. In our 2009 interview with Desreta, which was her first interview with any media outlet in over 15 years, she revealed that she had not seen or spoken to anyone from The Color Purple in 20 years. In addition, Jackson was raped shortly after the film’s release, which caused her to withdraw from Hollywood. Now she is a grown woman, is married, has three kids and is an entrepreneur. Jackson revealed that her interview with BET.com helped her land the spot on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “Oprah’s producer said to me, ‘The reason why I’m asking you these questions is because while we were searching you out we read an article on BET.com. It was intriguing.’ They basically wanted to ask questions concerning the article.”
In a BET.com exclusive, Desreta tells us the behind-the-scenes story of the reunion special, her new luxury hair line company, Black Silk, and the power of The Color Purple. Also, she candidly opens up about an overdue reconnection with Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg.
This is the 25th anniversary of The Color Purple and the last year of Oprah’s show. How did it feel to walk on that “Oprah” stage?
Wow! It was amazing… it was overwhelming in many ways because I actually had a secret goal in my heart that one day I would be on “Oprah”! [Laughs] Then when I heard it was her last year I was like, ‘okay, that’s not happening!’ [Laughs] So, it really was amazing.
In our 2009 interview, you said you hadn’t seen or spoken to the cast in nearly 20 years. Did you have any nerves or fears reconnecting with them because it had been so long?
Not at all. In fact, I didn’t have any expectations going into the show or reconnecting beyond the fact that we are going to do a show. The biggest thing is that I was going on there as a woman, not a child. Not just a woman, but the type of woman I am now. So I was more observant, more aware. I didn’t expect much and it was crazy because just the opposite happened.
In our previous interview, you said there was some tension with Whoopi on the set. How was it seeing her again?
Yes, Whoopi and I connected. We never disconnected after that, we actually email each other up to now. We talked and shared things. It made me feel like, ‘Oh my God, I got cheated all these years out of a relationship!’ She was so seriously concerned to pull me to the side to talk to me. She said, ‘I’m sorry I never got to tell you how wonderful you were in that film.’ There were so many special moments that behind the scenes, after the show was done, we conversed for about 30 minutes. She was very adamant to make sure that we talked, she initiated contact. It was just so genuine. I got a connection from everyone. They genuinely wanted to know how I was doing; they genuinely wanted to reconnect.
Let me tell you, the real show was after the show! [Laughs] Right after the show, Danny Glover was doing a movie so he had to leave, Whoopi had to leave, I had to get back, I had a film I was trying to make a commitment to — everybody wanted to leave but they couldn’t leave. We wanted to just talk. It was crazy; you were going from one dressing room to another green room. Everybody was searching, there were these private conversations. You saw so much happening, it was beyond a show. There were relationships, whether it was people mending misunderstandings or rebuilding. Akosua Busia, who played Nettie, we kept holding hands from the time we saw each other. We walked through halls; I walked with her as a woman, not as a little girl. The bond was unbelievable. I really thought she was still my sister! [Laughs]
And you and Whoopi are still in contact?
Yeah, that was weird to me because I left that reunion show meeting old acquaintances and making new friends. One thing Whoopi did say, ‘Well, you were a little girl.’
Meaning it was hard to connect with you because you were a child?
Yeah, it’s funny because it didn’t matter to me about the past. It hadn’t matter to me for a long time about the past or rumors or things that people had said. It was neither here nor there for me. In fact, I look up to the strength, whatever it is people had to do for their careers. I admire that. I’m not the type of person to hold grudges. It allowed me to be more open to anything or everything. Like I said, I came there expecting nothing and left with everything.
Were you able to have a moment with Oprah?
Yes, I told her, ‘Thank you for inviting me to this.’ She looked like — how could I not invite you? I wanted her to understand that I really appreciate her. I can understand how that would be for her because it seems like when you get to any position in life, it doesn’t have to be to that level that she’s at, people want something from you, everybody wants something. So, I just wanted to thank her and nothing more.
Now that you’ve had that reunion, have you been able to heal old wounds and come full circle?
Just in general, I have been in the process of healing. That is the reason why I am able to talk to people more and reconnect with fans. I don’t have the same fears I did before — because of that I do look at the film differently. I don’t know if it’s just going to the show or overall. I definitely would say one of things that led me to go through that was our initial conversation back in 2009. Getting the fans’ response and positive feedback, finding out how it helped them in many ways, the film and my story. That was healing.
Tell me about your hair line coming out.
It’s called Black Silk Products; it will be the first African-American luxury hair line. All this time I’ve been away, the thing that I’ve been involved in immensely, is hair. I would make my own shampoos, conditioners; I would get a product, concoct things and figure out why this is not working right. When I went to manufacturers, I brought my ingredients — I had been testing it for five years on my clients, myself and my daughter. Manufacturers tried to tell me that it was pricey and tried to get me to cut corners. They came out and said, ‘Our research shows that African Americans wouldn’t spend that type of money.’ That infuriated me. I made a decision then, let’s do this. I know that we are quality. I know that we do want the best and I stuck to my guns and that’s when we realized we had a luxury line. Then when I started doing the research I realized we were the first luxury line of our kind. We even cover silk bed sheets, silk scarves; we are branding it because I want people to trust Black Silk. I want them to trust that if we put out something then I know it’s the best and it’s going to work. That’s how it evolved and I accepted where it was going.
When will the Black Silk products be available?
We launch the product line July 4th of 2011. We do have a preview Web site, which is blacksilkproducts.com. You can put your information in and it will keep you updated.
Do you see yourself acting again?
Recently, I got a wonderful script. It’s called The Diva, it’s about an actress that used to be a child actress; she had to fight her way back up to the top. She’s currently the hottest leading actress in Hollywood and she did it her way. It’s more so a love story that you fall in love with her struggles and why she is the way she is — because she can be a bitch! [Laughs] We’re going through the pre-production phase.
Any closing thoughts on The Color Purple?
I just wanted to tell people that their support, whether they realize it or not, positive energy and words are very uplifting. I wanted to tell them I thank them so much for being fans for over 25 years. I have a certain amount of fans that have never forgotten me. I want them to know I truly appreciate that they’re there.
To read our 2009 interview with Desreta Jackson, click here.