Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple is a cornerstone literary reflection of African-American culture, so when it was made into a film, it seemed only appropriate that Quincy was asked to do the score and be a co-producer. Movie production might not have been nearly as big a feature on his resume as record production, but once Quincy decides to do something, it's total immersion. For two years, "I shut myself off from everything to work on the movie. I sat in front of a blank screen, day after day, imagining what the film should look like. I wanted to experience every aspect of making a film."
The fellow he chose to direct the film came as a surprise, but Quincy's always shot for the top when it comes to choosing his collaborators. The honor went to Steven Spielberg, whom he'd met when Spielberg was directing E.T., a 1982 film almost as big in the world of cinema as Thriller was in pop music. Coming at a time when Quincy's work in music and other media was getting faster and more furious, Quincy also ended up producing the storybook LP for E.T., to which Michael Jackson contributed narration and a song.
When you make decisions that the people raising the bucks don't expect, you can in turn expect some squawking before you get your way, just as some people who'd taken some risks on Quincy's behalf met with some resistance before he could seize the opportunities he was given. "When we were trying to make Color Purple, everyone was saying, 'He is out of his mind, his first picture he's ever been involved in in his life, he's talking about Steven Spielberg, it doesn't work like that.' But [Steven and I] were friends. I believed he could do anything, and told him that. He says, 'I shouldn't be doing this black picture.' And I said, 'Yes, you should. You didn't have to go to Mars to do E.T. You didn't have any experience there.' We went up to Alice Walker's, and he was very concerned and nervous. One thing led to another; Alice told us about a lady up in San Francisco, Whoopi [Goldberg]," who ended up playing the lead role of Celie in the movie.
Quincy can take personal credit for the discovery of the woman who would play the important supporting role of Sofia, putting her on the road to a career that eventually found her recognized as one of the influential American celebrities bar none. "I was casting one of the most important things in my life, The Color Purple," he remembers now. "And in the middle of that, [CBS Records executive] Walter Yetnikoff said, 'You have to go out to Chicago and testify for Michael [Jackson] in a plagiarism case.' I couldn't sleep, and about quarter after nine, I turned on the TV set, and saw [the local talk show] AM Chicago. I saw this lady, and my soul jumped on fire. I said, 'She can act! She is Sofia. There's no doubt about it.' I didn't know her name; they didn't mention her name.
"I went through some of my friends and found out who she was; it was Oprah. And she was going to be the wife of Harpo. I never heard of anyone called Oprah and guess what—Oprah backwards spells Harpo. And I knew it was not only my decision, it was beyond me. "I sent a video back to Spielberg and Alice Walker. I have a video of Oprah, Whoopi, Danny Glover, and their screen tests. He gave them two lines apiece, and they had to improvise for forty minutes. That's the day they all got hired."