Tina Turner’s career is laced with boundless amounts of pulsating light, yet humanity is utterly fascinated by the dark.
This review won't be an easy one to write. TRIGGER WARNING: This article includes topics like domestic violence, suicide, and rape. I want to tread carefully across eggshells for this review, and I mean no harm or offense to any survivors: only respect, solidarity, and understanding.
Tina (2021), directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, kicks off with a walloping bang (onomatopoeia perfectly suited for Miss Turner). A vivacious shaggy mullet, waving with every perfectly timed flick of her head, the crowd cult-like singing along to every word she belts out. This woman embodies power, resilience, magnanimous amounts of talent, and yet, she is infamously known as a survivor.
With documentaries of this nature, it can be so difficult to find a key balance. Tina Turner's career is laced with boundless amounts of pulsating light, yet humanity is utterly fascinated by the dark. So it's no surprise that a lot of the film focuses around a People magazine interview in 1981 with Turner, going public five years after leaving Ike and the abusive relationship.
The film is split into crucial chapters of her career, and of course, it begins with Ike and Tina.
Anna Mae Bullock was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 17-year-old singer in the gospel church. Ike Turner was writing his first Rock n' Roll record in 1951, with no recognition. Ike began developing a gaping chip on his shoulder that would soon completely crumble. On the other hand, Anna was in awe of Ike's talents and wanted to sing for his band. She begged for an audition, and her warm, fully-fledged timbre tones instantly entranced him. In Ike's eyes, he had struck talent gold.
Their first record, A Fool in Love (1960), was a hit, and Ike was reaping the benefits of this wondrous woman. He saw how young and dedicated she was to the music, yet the opportunist in him saw the lack of her business knowledge. The contracts given to Anna were disproportionately imbalanced, and Ike decided to change her name without any consultation. She was now Tina Turner. This was where the manipulation and abuse all started, "I was brain-washed. I was afraid of him, and I cared about what happened to him". Ike's paranoia about Tina overshadowing or leaving him lead to "the beginning of the torture" and sexual violence.
As Ike and Tina Turner gained further traction, audiences clued into Tina's fire, and yet their soulful gyrating rock did not resonate with the US charts. People couldn't believe an African American duo could be part of the Rock Billboard Charts. It took over a decade for their music to be understood in the US, but my god was it understood with the release of Proud Mary (1971). Rolling into that sweet river of success truly shook the charts, and Ike bought a recording studio with the money. He then added drugs into his already unstable demeanor, putting pressure onto Tina, and continued to physically abuse her behind closed doors if she had any musical input to give. Tina attempted suicide on multiple occasions to escape him, and they cut to an old clip of a delusional Ike defending himself, talking about his womanizing ways upsetting her and how "...she was trying to be what she thought I wanted".
A moment that truly flipped this harrowing tale for me was watching this flaming poetess performing spoken word across a packed concert hall, grinning from ear to ear under the heavy spotlight "Tonight I'm going to speak to us women, somehow the men always manage to get what they want, that's right, they do what they want to do and whenever they want to do it, and you know what? They do it with whoever they want to do it with. But then that leads us, women, to thinking (yeah, we can think too) we think that whatever out there that's in the streets must be good, cos you men have been out there for a long time and now us women want to get out there too". I was relieved to see (even though we all know the story) that there was this turnaround in the documentary. After enduring years of manipulation, violence, and sexual abuse, she left Ike on July 4th, 1976.
It was time to enter a new existence for Tina. She kicked the Bob Mackie dresses, tossed the straight weave, and yet kept the name as a royal 'Fuck You!' to Ike. Like a powerhouse phoenix rising from the ashes of abuse, she became the 80s shaggy, leather adorned goddess we know so very well to this day. Being as 80's obsessed as I am, I can't skim over the What's Love Got to Do With It story. Originally written by Terry Britten for a UK duo called Bucks Fizz then offered to a disapproving Tina in 1984. She hated its poppy yet sappy sound. It didn't match the rock goddess phoenix she now was. So with a decent amount of diplomacy and direction from Tony, he asked her to practically whisper the lyrics, as if lightly "jogging" with her voice until she reached the top of the hypothetical hill hitting her classically rich tones. This created the Grammy award-winning track I now slow dance to with myself in the mirror every Friday night.
After the Grammy and the release of Private Dancer, she sky-rocketed to be one of the greatest divas, a stand-alone icon of the '80s and dubbed The Queen of Rock n' Roll, all at the prime age of 50 years old. You would think after writing her biography I, Tina, My Life Story (1986) which then inspired the biopic What's Love Got To Do With It (1993), would have fed the media vultures but their talons were still clawing away. Every interview she did, Ike became the focus. No matter how much information she would share with the world, the press drained her for more. Tina goes on to describe how the nightmarish shadows of Ike continued to stalk her, no matter her success.
Tina Turner became a household name to demographics ranging from 16 to 60 across America, and of course, the rest of the world for obvious reasons that can not be denied. This documentary and the opening of her Broadway show are essentially a goodbye letter to her American life, to the constant pestering by the press, to the haunting shadows of Ike, Erwin Bach (Tina's husband of 9 years) described it as "closure" for her. It's so frustrating and sad to think that her abuse completely tarnished her name no matter how much she bared her soul to the world.
In a way, the film is hypocritical in its intent, it gives a platform for Tina to share her whole story, but there's still a presence of paparazzi-esque inquisitiveness. It teeters between an in-depth look at her life but mainly circulates around Ike's domestic violence. I'm going to rate this film Very Good. Check the Film Condition Board below to see what that exactly means. This film gave me a magnified look into Tina Turner's soaring career, and my review truly skims over this 2 hour documentary about the Queen of Rock n' Roll, it is worth the watch. Nevertheless, a woman should never be defined by the abuser, and that is an obvious takeaway from this film.
If you need any advice or assistance, Centrum Seksueel Geweld can help anyone facing sexual violence past or present and is available 24/7. Coloured Qollective focuses on the LGBTQIA+ POC community in relation to trauma, and Veilig Thuis can also aid domestic abuse victims.