Interview: From ‘Wakanda Forever’ to ‘The Color Purple,’ CU Boulder alum Aba Arthur is living out her acting dreams on the silver screen

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17min 45sec
Aba Arthur Color Purple CU Actress
Courtesy Aba Arthur
CU Boulder alum, actress Aba Arthur on the set of “The Color Purple” movie remake with co-producer Oprah Winfrey.

Aba Arthur.

Her name may not ring a bell, but many of the big projects she’s worked on probably do. 

We first spoke with Arthur, a University of Colorado Boulder graduate who grew up in Colorado Springs, on Colorado Matters about a year ago, talking about her experience portraying a scientist in the 2022 Marvel sequel “Black Panther Wakanda Forever.”

Now she’s in the latest adaption of “The Color Purple,” a musical remake of the iconic Steven Spielberg film from the 1980s now available on most major streaming platforms.

Arthur recently sat down with Colorado Matters host Chandra Thomas Whitfield to talk about the role, her acting journey and the love she has for her alma mater.

Read the interview

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Chandra Thomas Whitfield: How does it feel to hear so many people celebrating you and honoring your acting skills that in many ways were shaped and honed right here in Colorado? 

Aba Arthur: My heart; my heart is bursting. I feel so blessed and I'm glad to be back in Denver [for a visit} and I'm glad to talk about this movie. Yeah, I feel very blessed.

Thomas Whitfield: I would imagine this project is very close to your heart? 

Arthur: Yes! The interesting thing is, I'm a fan of “The Color Purple,” period. I'm a fan of the story by author Alice Walker, the great: the Broadway musical, the 1985 version. I am a fan, so I would've gone to see it anyway in the theater.

Aba Arthur Color Purple CU Actress
Courtesy Aba Arthur
From “Wakanda Forever” to “The Color Purple” remake, CU Boulder alum Aba Arthur is living out her acting dreams on the silver screen.

Thomas Whitfield: But being in it. I'm sure, expedited your attendance! 

Arthur: Absolutely! But sitting in the theater and watching the performances and the music. The music, the way it hits your soul. I was listening to the soundtrack this morning, again, not just because I'm in it, but I'm actually a fan of the story. So I want to make sure that I do my part in getting that message across because I think it's a beautiful story. It's a showcase of beautiful talents.

Thomas Whitfield: You are by no means an overnight sensation. You have been in the entertainment industry for two decades, but a lot of people first heard of you when you joined the cast of “Wakanda Forever” in 2022. 

Arthur: That was really the first large name project that I was a part of, but as you mentioned, I mean, there've been so many things here and there over the years, so it's good that now there's something people can identify that's helpful. But yes, I've been here.

Thomas Whitfield: You were born in Washington, D.C. but grew up in both Ghana and Colorado Springs. I have been to both places and in my view, that's basically, like two different planets in terms of culture and the vibe. How did you navigate the cultures of both places and how would you say they both influenced who you are today? 

Aba Arthur: Wow, that's a great question, first of all. I like to say that when I came to Colorado, I had an extreme amount of culture shock, as I'm sure you can imagine. To say the least. In hindsight, I'm so grateful to my parents for the move and for all the moves that we had when I was a child, because what happens is, when you're in such different environments, you learn how to get along with anyone. Humans are humans, and there is something about anyone sitting in front of me that I can relate to. So as a child, when you're the new kid, you get a chance to really dig into your own skin and plant your own feet before you build relationships. So I'm grateful for that. It's a skill I have now. 

Thomas Whitfield: I can definitely relate having to move around, it does make you grow as a person and you get to experience different cultures. 

Arthur: Yes, absolutely. And thankfully, too, we need that. We all need to experience cultures outside of our own. I think that's very important. 

Thomas Whitfield: You are an alum of the University of Colorado Boulder where you received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in the Performing Arts, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, and you now sit on C.U.'s Dean Advisory Board for your contribution to the arts. How exciting. 

Arthur: That's correct. Shout out, C.U. Buffs! Hello, coach Prime! I'm so, so grateful to be able to come back to the school now in this position on the Dean's board, because obviously, being a student there, I understand what the needs are of students, and so any way in which I can turn around and give back, I'm grateful to be able to do. Absolutely. 

Thomas Whitfield: Well, you bring up a great point. What is it like for your school to be getting all of this national attention? 

Arthur: Oh, man. Well, first of all, we take bandwagoners, 'cause we need them, okay. We need all the support we can get. So I'm happy to welcome anybody who's a C.U. Buffs fan now. It's wild because we were going to football games and doing the whole thing. I've had Buffs gear for I don't know how long. 

Thomas Whitfield: And people were like, "What is that, you’re wearing?" 

Arthur: Exactly. They always say, "Oh yes, the mountains and the Broncos." That's what they're familiar with. 

Thomas Whitfield: And they probably ask if skiing was an elective? 

Arthur: Correct (laughs). And so now, to walk through the airport and I see somebody with Buffaloes gear on, I still get very excited and I run up to them. I'm like, "Did you go to C.U.?" And they didn't. They're just wearing it to support the Buffs and support Coach Prime. We'll take it. We need it.

Thomas Whitfield: Tell us about what you do on this board for C.U. 

Arthur: So for the Dean's Advisory Board, essentially, what we do is, we talk about all of the programs in the arts and sciences, so anything that's going to affect the students, that's going to affect the school, we discuss it, we vote on it. If there's anything that we need to discuss and work out in the room before it goes into play, that's what we do there. So I'm so happy that I'm in the room, I'm happy to have a voice there, and I'm grateful for this year to be able to create some change.

Thomas Whitfield: Back to “The Color Purple.” I don't want to give away your role because some people still have not seen it, but this is a very star-studded film and a lot of people were vying for parts. How'd you land this role? 

Arthur: Auditions, auditions, auditions, auditions. So much love to my agency, Stewart Talent. My agents believe in me and I can feel it, and so when something like this comes up, they know that I can do it and they stand behind me and I get the auditions. I go in there, I do the work. It's been a long time in this industry, so this is not something that I take lightly. No audition that comes across me. It doesn't matter honestly, what the project is, I'm always going to do my best. So when it is something that is “The Color Purple,” obviously, I'm going to come with my best. And so thankfully, I did that and I booked it. I knew what the film was, I knew what the roles were, I knew how heavy it was, and I was ready.

Aba Arthur Color Purple CU Actress
Courtesy Aba Arthur
CU Boulder alum Aba Arthur with fellow castmates on the set of the 2023 remake of "The Color Purple," now streaming on major platforms.

Thomas Whitfield: Now take us back to the day you learned that you had been selected for this remake of “The Color Purple.” 

Arthur: I am so glad you asked. I will answer this question for as long as I live. I was with my family in Ghana. We were at dinner with some friends and we were having a very serious conversation. Now I saw my agent calling and she only calls for two reasons. So I saw her calling once, I saw her calling twice, I'm like, "No, I got to step out and take it." She told me those words and I collapsed on the ground. I'm so dramatic. The whole waitstaff came out, they were like, “Are you okay?” I kept trying to say, "No, this is good. It's good." That day I was just so happy that I got a chance to literally walk back inside and announce it to everybody. That was really cool. What a dream. Honestly, I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I felt so blessed to be there on set every day. I did not take anything for granted. Everyone that I met; I'm there with heavyweights. It's a learning experience and there's so much growth in this process, but you have to be present for it. So, I just tried to bring myself back into my body every morning, every time I was in my trailer and put my hat on and then walk out and do the thing and try to do it well. So it was truly a dream, honestly. 

Thomas Whitfield: When we spoke last time about “Wakanda Forever” you told this amazing story about Lupita Nyongo personally teaching you the “Wakanda Forever” salute on set. And you were talking about how you were kind of playing it cool on the set, but secretly kind of fan-girling it out when you got back to your trailer. Any similar experiences on the set of “The Color Purple” film? 

Arthur: Oh my gosh, quite a few, actually. Well, a quick one I had with Colman Domingo, who also received an Oscar nomination for another film he did, “Rustin.” He just spoke such life into me. He sat down with me and just talked to me about where I am, where I'm going, and Oprah followed that up. “Ms. O” came up right behind him and just really spoke into my life and spoke into my future and it was quite surreal, but also, I was very present and I heard all their words and they landed with me, so it's unforgettable.

Thomas Whitfield: What was it like working with Fantasia Barrino? 

Arthur: Fantasia is a phenomenal human being. She is really spectacular, and she is so talented, as you've seen. When she starts singing, it feels like the ground itself is moving. Our scenes were so powerful and after takes, we all had to take a second and just kind of collect it back because where we were, what we were saying, what we were doing, standing in front of her, it was all so powerful. But she is incredibly graceful and I admire her and I'm really, really proud of her. I'm proud of the work that she's done and I'm proud to say she's a friend. 

Thomas Whitfield: One of the big headlines to come out since the film's release is actress Taraji P. Henson, who in my view, did a remarkable job playing the character Shug Avery in the movie – who knew she could sing, by the way –  in tears speaking on a panel, sharing her experience, feeling underpaid and undervalued as a Black actress in Hollywood. Aba, did her message about the gender pay gap in Black women in Hollywood resonate with you at all? 

Arthur: Of course. I think that this is a conversation that needs to be had, and it needs to be had on a larger scale because it spans across all industries and all professions. I think any Black woman anywhere can probably attest to the fact that at some point in your professional career, you felt undervalued. So, I appreciate the conversation and I think it's important that we keep having it, and also, that we don't lose sight of what we're talking about because this needs to be resolved. Absolutely. We need to talk about it. It's true. 

Thomas Whitfield: What's next for Aba Arthur? What are you working on? 

Arthur: Thanks for asking. So this year, 2024, it's going to be a good big year for me. I'm calling it now. I have a television series coming to Apple TV called “Bad Monkey” and it stars Vince Vaughn! Who I'm already a fan of, but even more of a fan of now. Also, I have a film coming out called “Freedom Hair,” which is the story of Melanie Armstrong. She had the first legal hair braiding salon, so I'm very excited for everybody to see that one as well. 

Thomas Whitfield: Just looking at your beautiful mane here in person, this seems like a fitting project. 

Arthur: Thank you so much. Yes, hair is important to me as it is to all of us, right and that's part of the reason why I believe Melanie's story and this story in “Freedom Hair” is going to relate to a lot of us, because if you haven't been in a hair braiding salon, please find one and get to know them. 

Thomas Whitfield: Well, you have a lot for us to check out. Aba, it's always a pleasure speaking with you and I will continue to stick around during the film credits to watch for your name.

Aba Arthur: Oh, thank you so much. Thank you. Such a pleasure being back. I appreciate it.  

Actress and C.U. Boulder grad, Aba Arthur, grew up in Colorado Springs. She spoke with Colorado Matters host Chandra Thomas Whitfield about her recent role in the Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg produced remake of the classic film, “The Color Purple.” The film is now streaming on Max and Hulu and available for rent on Apple TV and Amazon Prime. Later this year, she's also set to make her television series debut on the Apple TV series, “Bad Monkey,” starring comedic actor Vince Vaughn.