By the time I was growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, the world had known a different Tina Turner than who she was when her musical career was starting. I grew up knowing the strong, independent Turner, the rockstar. To me, she always was just that, no Ike Turner in the picture.
Granted, I never really acquainted myself with her art close enough to discover her backstory. It took me until watching the latest HBO documentary Tina to find out who exactly Tina Turner is and what she had to overcome to get there. It is a testament to the incredible amount of work she has put in to have rebuilt herself as a survivor and a musician to the point where her history of abuse became but an anecdote of her public persona.
Tina puts the music icon front and center of its two-hour story, which swiftly gets to the abuse and trauma. The film outlines Turner’s life from her childhood, including the time when she and her siblings were abandoned by their parents and her relationship with Ike, who was Turner’s husband and band partner and who abused her for years.
The full context of how harrowing Turner’s creative and romantic relationship with Ike was is needed to make us understand and appreciate Turner’s subsequent path to healing and rise to world fame and success.
The documentary does not downplay the trauma by coming to a full circle by its end and demonstrating how Turner’s past did have its grip on her even as she became the icon that she is today. The film complicates what could have been a simple domestic abuse survivor narrative by also including Turner’s childhood trauma and her relationship with her mother as an adult in the equation.
With this more intricate picture of Turner’s hardships, it makes it even more satisfying to see her succeed and be outspoken about her newfound expectations for her life and determination to not settle for anything else.
The narrative that perhaps could have been more complicated is the process of sharing Turner’s story of abuse with the world, which is glided over in the film. Turner undoubtedly has a strong spirit, strong enough to get out of her marriage to Ike with next to no outside help. However, I wonder if her journey to telling the world the truth was perhaps more convoluted than how the documentary charts it.
Telling the story of abuse without the movement behind you must have been a very different experience compared to what we are seeing today with the Me Too era. Turner told her story not as a part of a collective effort to take down a powerful man but in hopes that the world would finally leave the topic alone. In this effort, it seems she did not even realize how powerful her story would be to other survivors.
In the end, the documentary is revealed to be Turner’s farewell, her final say in her career. So, it does make sense that certain issues the star has faced throughout her career (for example, ageism) are kept on the narrative’s fringe. This does not make the film any less delightful to watch, and it accomplishes its mission of telling us who Tina Turner is on her own terms.
As previously mentioned, I was never a fan of Turner. Still, I did find myself singing along to “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and smiling when watching the last minutes of Turner’s interview. She may have said her goodbye, but, as it is said in the film, “Tina Turner belongs to the world.” And I’m thrilled I finally got to meet her.
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