New (and Old) Moves for a Choreographer to Hip Hop’s Stars

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For Fatima Robinson, choreographing “The Color Purple” was far more than a job. It was a callback to her youth, before becoming known for her pop work.

The choreographer Fatima Robinson made her name, at 21, with an epic Michael Jackson video. Two decades later, she orchestrated the moves for 1,000 performers at a Super Bowl halftime show. Then she rose to become Beyoncé’s director of choreography.

But among the most meaningful work of her career has boiled down to a series of handclaps.

When Robinson was growing up in Los Angeles, her mother took her and her two younger sisters to see “The Color Purple” — a family milestone. After that, “I saw the movie probably every year of my life,” she said. The girls were inspired by the onscreen sisters’ patty-cake-style routine; they made the claps their own and share it to this day, often in emoji form. If “we’re getting on each other’s nerves,” Robinson said, it’s a symbol of peace. “We know that’s, like, that special love that we have for each other.”

Now, as the choreographer for the latest version of “The Color Purple,” a movie musical directed by Blitz Bazawule, she helped devise the onscreen clapping pattern for the young siblings Celie and Nettie. “It was sooo special,” Robinson said. “That sister love in this movie is so what I have with my sisters.”

“The Color Purple,” based on the Broadway musical of Alice Walker’s seminal Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, arrives with a mantle of heavyweight backers and performers, including the producers Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg and the stars Fantasia Barrino-Taylor, Taraji P. Henson and Colman Domingo. In Robinson, 52, they added perhaps the most elevated hip-hop and R&B choreographer working today, who has worked in music, TV, film and live events, including Super Bowl halftime shows in 2022 and 2011. (She was also recently named a creative director for the Knicks City Dancers.)

Robinson, in black, on the set of “The Color Purple,” with Fantasia Barrino-Taylor, in white, and Oprah Winfrey.Eli Adé/Warner Bros.

“When we needed something amazing, we called Fatima — that’s what it was,” said Mary J. Blige, who has worked with her several times, including on NBC’s live production of “The Wiz” in 2015.

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