There’s a moment in HBO’s new documentary Tina—out Saturday, March 27—in which Tina Turner, the formidable Queen of Rock and Roll, clears her throat. As the press junket noise around her silences, she looks directly into the camera and wonders out loud in disbelief, “We are going to talk about him, aren’t we?”
Much of the documentary by Academy Award-winning directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin goes this way. Turner continually making it clear she’d prefer not to revisit her traumatic and abusive past at the hands of her ex-husband, Ike Turner; journalists incessantly requesting she talk about it again and again and again.
Watching Turner repeatedly save face and change the subject made my stomach turn. At one point, she even asks for a fan to ward off a hot flash caused by the unceasing questioning. As a fan, I love her story in all its parts—the stubborn gladness she found, despite everything that she was up against. But watching the reporters, and even the documentarians making this film, ask her to revisit a past she so clearly has no interest in going back to made me question myself as a journalist, as a fan, and as a viewer.
At what point do we allow artists like Tuner, whose contributions and positive moments far outweigh any troubled history, tell their stories of triumph without trauma forever intertwined?
Of course, this isn’t the first time Turner has shared her story with us. Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, the film What’s Love Got to Do With It, and her bestselling memoir I, Tina all explore the singer’s life and career. However, as the documentary presents, the first true telling of the abuse that shadowed her early career was in an interview with People in 1981. As Turner explains, it was her choice: She wanted to finally close the chapter on that story and live her life outside of the confines of trauma. “I’m a happy person now,” she says in the documentary. “And I don’t dwell on unhappiness.”