Why ‘Tina’ is a lot more than just the story of a singer

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I would absolutely recommend this documentary, though one should know going in that it has some heavy and potentially triggering content.

Last night, I watched the new Tina Turner documentary, “Tina,” on HBO. Previous to watching the film, I did not know much about Tina Turner or her discography besides a few iconic songs like “Proud Mary,” “The Best,” or “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” The documentary, directed by Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin, really illuminated the power and strength of Tina Turner.

The film is split into five acts, outlining her childhood and early life, the start of her career, the trauma and torture she survived in her relationship with Ike Turner, as well as her comeback and superstardom in the 1980s.

Turner was born to sharecroppers in the late 1930s. Being raised in an era that was heavily impacted by the effects of the abolition of slavery, she had a difficult upbringing as a Black individual. Both of her parents abandoned her and her siblings on the farmland they rented. They were forced to grow up at a very young age.

From her first memories, she recalls witnessing domestic abuse within her home. Turner is a woman whose life has been immensely impacted by abuse, yet she compartmentalized that intense pain and went on to become a legend.

Turner went through decades of abuse and torture from her husband, Ike Turner. He is credited with being one of the creators of rock and roll, he also gave Turner her start in the industry. Their relationship relied on oppressive power dynamics that limited and confined Turner while making Ike feel strong.

Throughout those years of suffering, Turner still was able to put on a smile and give jaw-dropping performances. This is in no way meant to glorify her ability to conceal her trauma, but instead to show the kinds of intense suffering survivors are forced to endure while maintaining a smiling face.

Ike controlled every aspect of her life. She had no autonomy over any part of herself including her name, which Ike chose without consulting her. Eventually, a woman she frequently worked with introduced her to Buddhism. Through Buddhism, Turner was able to find strength within herself and eventually leave Ike.

As a survivor of sexual abuse myself, I know that the process of taking one’s power back is incredibly painstaking. At its root, abuse is about power. Someone feels powerless in their situation, so they take power from someone else in order to feel better about themselves. Being in a predicament where one has had their power taken away time and time again makes it even more difficult to attempt to reclaim that power. It is a process that Turner, myself, and countless others have endured.

In the documentary, Oprah discusses how her and Turner’s generation were the first to really speak up about the violence they experienced. That generation laid the foundation for survivors to be able to communicate the trauma they have experienced, as well as learn, grow, and find empowerment from that trauma as a community. Without the courage of survivors like Tina Turner, who were brave enough to speak up for themselves, who knows if I would have the confidence to speak so openly about the sexual violence I have personally endured.

Clearly, Turner has power in the form of her stage presence and voice, but the part of her that really inspires me and so many others is her tenacity and will to not be held down. In Tina and Ike’s divorce, Ike took everything. The only thing Turner received in the settlement was the legal ownership to her name. Turner discusses this quite eloquently, “He might have given me that name, but I was going to show him what I could make of it.”

Before the film, I was not aware of Turner’s age as she became the world-renowned superstar that she is today. By the ’80s, she was a forty-year-old woman with four children, yet she could move her body in more whimsical ways than I am capable of currently at twenty-one. Seeing a middle age woman be depicted as a sex symbol is also quite inspiring considering we live in a world that glorifies youth.

In the documentary, Turner discusses how she disclosed the information about her abuse so that the press would move on from constantly bringing up Ike. She talks about how this ended up having the opposite effect and only made people want to discuss those circumstances more.

Repressing abuse is an understandable way of dealing with such trauma. After living in suffering for years, I imagine it would be really painful to think back on those times. Yet repressing those thoughts and feelings does not allow for one to work through their trauma. I have encountered this with many family members who are also survivors of sexual violence. Personally, part of taking my power back from my abuser is talking about what happened to me, sitting in those feelings and fully feeling every emotion that comes with that, knowing I am safe and he does not have any power over me now.

It took me a long time to get to a point where I am able to do that, though. It is a process that takes a lot of time and is not linear. Some survivors are not ready for that step and that is perfectly alright. For me, feeling those feelings and reliving those painful moments has allowed me to move forward and find empowerment. Writing this article is empowering, as I am sure it was for Turner to write her autobiography.

While I do think Turner used repression to survive, I also understand her want to disclose what happened a select amount of times and move on. She discusses how she is so much more than what happened to her and that really resonated with me. People sometimes view survivors as the harm that they have endured, when in reality that is just a small part of us. I would absolutely recommend this documentary, though one should know going in that it has some heavy and potentially triggering content.

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Morgan Antisdel
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