Oprah Winfrey Reveals Surprisingly Low Paycheck For $98.5M Spielberg Movie

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Summary

  • Oprah Winfrey revealed that she was only offered $35,000 for her role in The Color Purple, but she has no regrets as it was her dream to be a part of the film.
  • While $35,000 may seem low, it was worth more in 1985 and was comparable to nearly $100,000 today when accounting for inflation. However, other stars were making significantly more at that time.
  • Winfrey’s lack of negotiating power as a debut film actress may be the reason why she was offered such a small salary. Regardless, her performance in the film earned her an Oscar nomination and remains memorable and influential.


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Oprah Winfrey reveals the surprisingly small salary she made for starring as Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple. The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker and follows Celie Harris Johnson (Whoopi Goldberg), an African-American woman struggling to overcome oppression and abuse. A new musical adaptation of The Color Purple is also in the works, directed by Blitz Bazawule. With the latest movie set to arrive on December 25, some have begun to look back on the original.

In an interview with Essence before the SAG-AFTRA strike, Winfrey revealed the salary she made on The Color Purple. She was only offered $35,000 for her role, though she feels no regret about the low salary, as starring in the movie was her dream. Check out her statement below:

I can’t even begin to tell you what it means to me — a person who wanted nothing more in my life than to be in The Color Purple. And God taught me to surrender — that was the big lesson for me. They were only offering $35,000 to be in this film, and it is the best $35,000 I ever earned. It changed everything and taught me so much. It is God moving through my life.


Why Did Oprah Winfrey Make So Little For The Color Purple?

Sophia looking angry in The Color Purple

Winfrey did not explain why she was offered so little for The Color Purple. She also didn’t clarify if she made more in residuals once the film proved to be a critical and commercial hit. However, it’s important to remember that $35,000 in 1985 went much farther than it does today. Accounting for inflation, $35,000 would’ve been comparable to nearly $100,000 today. Still, even back then, $35,000 was low compared to what other stars were making. For example, Jack Nicholson was paid $6 million upfront for Batman, while Michael J. Fox made $250,000 for Back to the Future.

The likeliest reason why Winfrey was offered so little was because The Color Purple was her debut film. While Winfrey was making huge strides in her career around this time, she wasn’t yet a household name as she is today. The Oprah Winfrey Show wouldn’t premiere until the year after The Color Purple, and while she was already turning heads in the radio industry, Sofia was her first acting credit. Her inexperience doesn’t necessarily make her small salary right, but it’s understandable that she may not have had as much negotiating power as established actors.

However, she proved that star power alone doesn’t make a good performance. For her role as Sofia, Winfrey nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. To this day, her performance remains memorable and influential. Most importantly, it’s one she has never forgotten. Winfrey hasn’t been shy about her love for the film and what it meant to be a part of it. Fortunately, she is also a part of the 2023 Color Purple adaptation, as she will serve as a musical producer. Winfrey didn’t earn a huge salary from The Color Purple, but she did make quite the legacy with it.

Source: Essence