Why Tina Turner Turned Down a Role in Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Color Purple’

Tina Turner Portrait Session 1984 - Credit: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

Tina Turner Portrait Session 1984 – Credit: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

Tina Turner, the rock and roll legend who died Wednesday at 83, spoke openly and candidly about domestic abuse at a time when resources for women were scarce and difficult to access. Throughout her career, the iconic singer shared her experiences of overcoming an abusive relationship with her ex-husband Ike Turner, and her story of strength has become a source of inspiration for generations.

In a resurfaced 1986 interview with Italian television host Serena Dandini, Turner revealed why she turned down a leading role in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple. The artist, who had aspirations of becoming an actress at a young age, said she wanted to “do something that people would remember me for, something I would enjoy and be proud of.” However, when offered the role by Spielberg, Turner said it it reflected “too much back on my life with my ex-husband.”

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“I mean, I’m talking always to the press about my life and now to do a movie? I’m just dragging myself down. I’m trying to forget the past because it’s done. It’s over. I finished that part of my life, and I’m not going to do a part that will remind me of what I’ve lived already,” she told Dandini. “I think Steve understood that I couldn’t do it for that reason, finally, after I really expressed what it was.” Whoopi Goldberg would go on to play the role of Celie, receiving an Academy Award nomination for her performance. The 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker will be released as a musical film adaptation this December from a screenplay by Marcus Gardley, and star Halle Bailey and Fantasia Barrino.

Turner also addressed the lack of acting roles for Black women at the the time, and talked about how even when offers began to come in, it was often for the role of a “hooker.”

The singer played the Acid Queen in Ken Russell’s 1975 film Tommy, but said that when she accepted the part, she didn’t realize she would be portraying a character who used sex work to lure her victims.

“I took the part because I got the chance to be this mad woman and doing all these things, and when they gave me the needle, I went, ‘Oh, I’m promoting drugs!’” she laughed. “Then I said, ‘Oh, well, but this is acting,’ because when you’re acting, you’re just portraying the lives of anything or anyone.”

A decade later, Turner would land the starring role as the villainous Auntie Entity alongside Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and release “One of the Living,” a song she cut for the film, winning a Best Female Rock Performance Grammy in 1985. “She was a warrior woman first,” said Turner when asked what parts of the role appealed to her. “It is the warrior woman parts that I want. I want physical parts. I want to drive the machines, to do the fighting. I want to be physical. I still need that excitement.”

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