Every day, we’re reminded that Black Twitter holds a wealth of knowledge. In today’s episode of “I Was Today Years Old,” one Twitter user presented the prompt, “In the mood for some random Black industry facts. What y’all got for me?” Journalist and author, Michael Harriott, replied with a jaw-dropping tidbit that could easily have been a question on Jeopardy.
“This black singer had an idea for a movie called ‘Dreams’ but the singer’s OWN LABEL wanted a white actor to play the lead,” he began. “The singer refused. So they gave the singer a tiny ‘black film’ budget, gave him the role (instead of John Travolta) & changed the title to [what we now know as] Purple Rain.”
Although many were surprised to learn this information, this isn’t the first time this fact has surfaced. In April 2016, a week after Prince’s untimely death, a conversation with Albert Magnoli—director of Purple Rain—surfaced in Rolling Stone about the singer’s “cinematic breakthrough.”
Magnoli revealed that the film was being passed up by countless directors, but he convinced Prince that he was the one needed to convey his story in its visual manner. Initially, Prince and his management team were equally footing $500,000 to fund the film, but when it made its way to Warner Bros., their first request was to cast John Travolta.
Magnoli recalled, “I said to the Warners guys, ‘Guys, this is not going to happen. This is unacceptable. What we have going for us is authenticity.’ They were shocked. I said, ‘Next question.'” Even Apollonia teased, “I love John, but I don’t think—in high heels and Jheri curl and purple velvet, I don’t think that would’ve worked.”
Warner Bros. were also against the film’s content itself. “The development people came to [Magnoli] and said, ‘The script is sexist and misogynistic and violent and erotic, and it puts down women.’ They’re looking at a PG-13 concept. I’m saying, ‘No, it’s an R. It’s a brutal story with a lot of darkness in it.'”
Though they continued to nitpick the 1984 film (even as it began making rounds with theater screenings), its soundtrack garnered two Oscar wins, earned over $70 million in box office sales, and catapulted Prince’s career. During its opening week, the crooner became the first artist to simultaneously have a No. 1 album, single, and film in the country, reported to Rolling Stone.
There are varying reports that Richard Pryor wanted to produce Purple Rain, but former football player and Hall of Famer Jim Brown felt Prince was too feminine for his liking—as shared in the 2013 documentary, Richard Pryor: Omit The Logic. However, others say that Brown didn’t pass on the film, but Pryor, rather, lowballed the funding.
Either way, Purple Rain is now streaming on HBO Max. Watch the trailer below.