Music legend Tina Turner is the subject of one of the most successful biopics ever made but a new documentary sees her confront her demons in her own voice.
“Tina” by Oscar-winning directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin premiered Tuesday at the Berlin film festival. It traces Turner’s six-decade career as an unlikely triumph over abuse and discrimination.
Paired with a musical about her that had its Broadway premiere in 2019 until the pandemic shut it down, the film is billed as the 81-year-old Turner’s farewell to her fans while introducing her to a “new generation”.
The documentary includes emotional interviews with the singer in which she recounts her childhood of grinding poverty picking cotton in the Tennessee fields, her performing debut with violent husband Ike Turner and her lonely years even as the world’s top female rock star.
Friends weigh in including Oprah Winfrey, “I, Tina” biographer Kurt Loder and Angela Bassett, who was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Turner in the 1993 blockbuster “What’s Love Got to Do with It”.
Turner was famously critical of the movie, refusing to watch it for several years and rejecting her depiction as a “victim” in it.
‘Pack places like the Stones’
In the documentary, she explains that the reason she decided to come forward in the 1980s about her years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse by Ike was that even after the split, interviewers insisted on asking her about their partnership.
“After all the success I have had, people were still talking about Ike and Tina,” she said.
“I wasn’t interested in telling that ridiculously embarrassing story of my life. But I felt that’s one way I could get the journalists off my back.”
Winfrey calls Turner a trailblazer in speaking out about her trauma at a time when it was still rare in the entertainment industry.
“Nobody talked about sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic abuse, abuse period,” said Winfrey, who survived molestation as a child.
“Our generation is the generation that started to break the silence.”
Even today, Turner still has flashbacks of being beaten.
“That scene comes back, you’re dreaming, the real picture’s there –- it’s like a curse,” she said.
“She slayed her dragons and continues to slay them and it’s an everyday challenge,” director Martin told AFP.
The documentary spotlights the obstacles Turner had to surmount to become a stadium-filling sex symbol as a Black middle-aged woman.
“I had a dream: my dream is to be the first Black rock’n’roll singer to pack places like the (Rolling) Stones,” she said.
Martin said Turner was long “fetishised or looked over” and had to fight to “fully have ownership of her own identity”.
“The number of times she reinvented herself and stayed relevant is more testament to Tina’s perseverance and power,” co-director Lindsay said. “She’s always looking forward.”
‘Bow out slowly’
Given the rigid race-linked radio categories of pop and R&B in America, Turner and her Australian manager Roger Davies decided she should relaunch her career from Europe.
Turner got the last laugh with her 1984 album, “Private Dancer”, which sold millions of copies worldwide and included her first major solo single “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, a song she says she “hated” at first until she “made it my own”.
“I don’t consider ‘Private Dancer’ a comeback album,” she said. “Tina had never arrived, it was Tina’s debut and this was my first album.”
She retired from touring in 2008 and near the end of the film, a frail-looking Turner is seen attending the musical about her life.
“I should be proud of that, I am,” Turner says, fighting back tears as she bids “goodbye” to her fans from her home in Zurich.
“But what do you do to stop being proud? How do you bow out slowly, just go away?”
“Tina” will screen internationally in select cinemas and on streaming services this summer.