Acclaimed HBO documentary “Tina” will hit differently for Black people – particularly Black women – with St. Louis roots, or a St. Louis connection. The film, by the Academy Award-winning directorial team of Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, premiered on Saturday, March 27 and it is worthy to be praised.
“Tina” uses Turner’s revealing 1981 “PEOPLE” Magazine feature – her first interview to detail the abuse she suffered at the hands of ex-husband and music collaborator Ike Turner – as its starting point. It then flashes back to the beginnings of her life and career and takes viewers through the premiere of the 2018 Broadway production “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.” According to the general consensus of critics, Lindsay and Martin crafted a nuanced, vulnerable and intimate portrait of music icon Tina Turner that she hopes will serve as an endearing gesture for fans as she bows out of the industry.
But the sons, daughters and grandchildren of St. Louis will see that and then some.
“I grew up two doors down from where Ike met Tina,” famed director and East St. Louis native Reginald Hudlin boasted to The American while promoting his Disney film “Safety” last year.
“Tina” makes it clear that our region positioned Turner to tear down barriers of age, race, gender and genre on her winding path to global superstardom. Anna Mae Bullock was born and mostly raised in Nutbush, Tennessee. But Tina Turner is a St. Louis original that was conceived soon after a teen Bullock arrived – as part of the Great Migration – to reconnect with her mother Zelma Bullock.
In “Tina,” Turner discusses how she convinced future husband Ike Turner to let her have a turn on the microphone. Ike Turner instantly saw in her what the rest of the world would experience 25 years later. On the weekends, she would play the St. Louis and East St. Louis club circuit as the sultry lead singer for Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm. Monday mornings she would go back to her unassuming role as a shy student at Sumner High School. An image of her Sumner senior photo appears in the film. “Ann Bullock, Entertainer,” the caption reads – presumably referring to Bullock’s future career aspirations. B-roll footage from the St. Louis days also included a contract for Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm to play Club Imperial, located near Goodfellow and West Florissant. And an official band photo includes former Ikette Robbie Montgomery, who later became famous in her own right through the OWN Network hit reality series “Welcome To Sweetie Pie’s.”
Bullock’s high school prophecy was fulfilled by 1960. Tina Turner had the R&B hit “Fool In Love” on her hands. Ike Turner renamed her. She then made a name for herself as Ike Turner’s frontwoman –a singing and dancing machine with unparalleled energy and stage presence. “Tina” reveals deeply personal highs and lows of her life and career are told through firsthand accounts archival footage and interviews. Unlike the feature film “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” the documentary provides a bit of grace for Ike Turner without diminishing the terror Tina Turner endured during their marriage. “Tina” generously gives Ike Turner the credit he is due as a rock music pioneer – a fact often overshadowed by his abusiveness towards his former wife. “Tina” also effectively illustrates how being forced to revisit the abuse created another tier of trauma for Tina Turner to overcome. But more than anything, “Tina” reveals just how epic and unprecedented her ascension from battered wife, to lounge singer to superstar truly was.
As a goddess of rock music who eventually became known as “The Queen of Rock n Roll,” she was a Black woman ruling what white men had laid claim to since Elvis Presley. Ironically, it is a genre her former husband pioneered with his 1951 record “Rocket 88.” She flipped the script on agism in popular music. When “What’s Love Got to Do with It” reached the top of the Billboard “Hot 100,” Tina Turner became the oldest female solo artist to top the chart. She was 44 years old. She boldly owned and expressed her sensuality as she sold out stadiums around the world – and blazed the screen of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” opposite a young Mel Gibson.
In doing so, she also became a blueprint for the ageless female sex symbol. Had it not been for the 1984 release of her album “Private Dancer,” J. Lo, Mary J. Blige, Madonna, Halle Berry and countless others would have most certainly been unceremoniously forced into retirement as “women of a certain age.”
In everything Tina Turner did, St. Louis influence was never far. It was once again made clear in “Tina” as she stood before her largest crowd, 186,000 Brazilians. Just after the pyrotechnics sizzled with “Tina Live In Rio,” she opened the 1988 show –part of her Break Every Rule World Tour – with her rendition of “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” The song was co-written and originally recorded by Kinloch native Ann Peebles.
In addition to the “trauma to triumph” experience that unfolds, St. Louis audiences will see “Tina” and be inspired to wonder, “If Tina Turner can contribute to the canon of music and culture in such an unprecedented and extraordinary way based on a talent she honed and cultivated right here, then what can I do?” Or better yet, “What can’t I do?”
“Tina” is currently streaming on HBO Max and on HBO On Demand for subscribers. The film has a running time of 118 minutes.