HBO’s newly-released documentary Tina captures the grand story of rock & roll legend Tina Turner in what is presented as the 81-year-old singer’s final bow in which she discusses her life and career. As told in five parts – “Ike & Tina,” “Family,” “Comeback,” “The Story” and “Love” – the documentary serves as a deeply personal account of what seems to be the singer’s surprisingly untold story with never-before-seen footage, audiotapes, personal photos, and new interviews, which include Turner herself. With appearances from Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, journalist Kurt Loder, playwright Katori Hall and Tina’s husband Erwin Bach, the intimate documentary is more than a tale of survival – it’s the compelling story of a woman who never let life keep her down no matter what.
In an interview with Shadow and Act, Oscar and Emmy-winning directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin spoke with us about the process behind creating the Tina documentary and how the film tells a different story of the rock & roll icon’s legacy than we’ve seen before.
Although four books, an Oscar-nominated biopic, and a Broadway musical were all created in an effort to capture Turner’s life, Lightbox producers Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn made a promise to the singer and her husband to make a theatrical feature-length documentary that told the real story in its fullness, Lindsay and Martin tell us. “I don’t think we fully understood probably how many times [her story] had been told,” Lindsay shared. “But I do remember talking early on that it just felt like, regardless of whether her story had been told in other places, the documentary form felt like a really proper way to explore Tina’s story, and in a way that no performance or telling through somebody else’s writing could ever do. There’s the power of hearing it from Tina herself that felt important.”
Unlike the aforementioned projects, Tina finally gives fans a chance to hear not only what Turner experienced through her life and career, but also the emotions she felt through those events that we weren’t privy to before – and this time it was coming straight from her mouth. “That’s the thing that ultimately gave us the confidence that we could make something decent in terms of committing to it,” Martin said.
There were genuine intentions behind the new documentary that allowed it to see the light of day. Despite rehashing the tragic accounts of what Turner experienced growing up, during her marriage to the late Ike Turner, and the aftermath that left her back at square one in her career, the documentary made it a point to give her a voice to speak to those things in hopes of putting some things to rest once and for all. “The one thing we felt like we hadn’t seen in all these other iterations was, what is Tina’s POV of the story of Tina? The film is really exploring that relationship that she has with the thing that got cemented as the public perception of Tina,” Martin shares with us. The directors’ pursuit to make a difference is what makes Tina a standout film.
The documentary allowed Lindsay and Martin to spend time with Turner in Zürich, Switzerland – where she currently resides with her husband – to film the new exclusive interviews. They also utilized that time to get a feel for how she wanted to be portrayed in the film. According to the co-directors, their biggest worry behind showing her the finished film was potentially re-traumatizing her with mentions of the physical and verbal abuse she experienced, but producer Simon Chinn told them that she was beaming over their Zoom call after screening the film in full. “She said that she thought the film was very accurate and that we represented her experience correctly,” Lindsay shared. “I think the thing that TJ and I picked up on that was really interesting is she said that it wasn’t as hard for her to watch as she was expecting. And I think that does speak to that idea of that growth to some sort of acceptance. It doesn’t mean that it’s still not a challenge for her every day, to still be processing her past traumas. But yeah, it indicates, I guess, some sort of growth and acceptance.”
The film touches on Turner’s previous hesitations to view certain things about her life like the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It as the majority of the film focused on her abusive marriage – a point in her life she’d rather leave behind. Although Turner isn’t actively doing press behind the new documentary, the hopes for the film are that it serves a sense of healing for things Turner has been too hurt to speak on so candidly.
Fans and survivors around the world have all admired Turner’s story over the years and continue to helm her as an inspiration of strength and resilience. No matter what point in time people are discussing the singer’s life – whether it’s 10 or 20 years from now – her legacy and story will always be considered timeless.
“There’s a reason that her story and narrative has taken on this mythological identity because it is very much this crazy quest story,” Lindsay said. “I think her life and her narrative has relevance well, well into the future.” Martin also echoed those same sentiments saying, “I think there’s always a good opportunity to dive into her narrative. In terms of the context with which we’re living through now, the one advantage may be that there’s a more empathetic audience that’s willing to really properly listen and empathize and feel a story of a survivor,” Martin shares. “And as Dan has pointed out before, the tools are being more and more accessible in terms of how to talk and navigate stories of this nature. And as long as we keep having a bigger national and now an international discourse on what’s the long-term effects of trauma, specifically trauma from abuse, I think stories like Tina’s are always going to be an opportunity for us to learn and hopefully grow from.”
As the present-day culmination of Turner’s life story, Tina is a way for both old and young people to appreciate what she’s been through over the course of her 60-year career. Though the film serves as both a thank you and goodbye, Turner’s legacy will always live on. Thanks to Tina, we have a new generation of music lovers and fans alike that will continue to share her story for years to come.
Tina is now available to stream on HBO Max.