It takes a queen to play a queen.
To celebrate Black History Month, I wanted to dedicate my final two Wayback Wednesday reviews to movies that tell the stories of influential figures in Black history. Similar to when I had to choose a romantic comedy to review for Valentine’s Day, I had A LOT OF potential movies to pick from. From movies about activists, like Malcolm X (1992), to sports heroes, like 42 (2013), I had a wide range of options. While perusing the shelves at my local library I came across the Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993) and was struck with inspiration. Tina’s story is not only one of resilience and strength, but a fascinating one that I’d bet most people aren’t very familiar with. There was no doubt in my mind: This was the movie I had to review. Plus, I get to talk about Angela Bassett at length which is always a bonus.
Based on Tina Turner’s memoir, “I, Tina,” What’s Love Got to Do with It chronicles the legendary singer’s life from growing up in Nutbush, Tennessee, to superstardom with husband Ike Turner, to forging her own career as a solo artist in the 1980s. The highs of Tina’s illustrious career are buffeted by her abusive relationship with Ike.
You guys, I was not ready for this movie. I was vaguely aware of the long, tumultuous relationship between the real-life Tina and Ike, but I had no idea of the intensity of the horrific things he put her though. Granted, as with most biopics, some of the details have been embellished or dramatized. However, the fact that Tina endured long-term physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband is one hundred per cent true. I was blown away by this movie for so many reasons. The incredible story, the transformative performances, the show-stopping musical numbers, Angela Bassett’s arms…all wonderful reasons to check this movie out. Seriously though, it’s rare that I find a movie that is a bold combination of heart-pounding drama, boisterous musical, and exhilarating biopic, but What’s Love Got to Do with It more than delivers. A tender and introspective look at the life of one of music’s biggest stars, What’s Love Got to Do with It is as close to peeking behind the curtain as you can get.
Playing Tina, born Anna Mae Bullock, is the equally legendary Angela Bassett who I’m convinced made a deal with the Devil sometime in the early 90s, because she literally hasn’t aged since this movie was released. I’m also convinced that Halle Berry and Gabrielle Union co-signed on that deal. How much do I love Bassett in this role? Let me count the ways: Look, the fact that Bassett bears such a striking resemblance to Turner is the icing on the cake, but what really sells the performance is the way she embodies Turner when she’s on stage. It’s jaw-dropping. When Bassett steps on stage as Turner, she looks completely natural and comfortable, like she’s someone who’s spent their whole life singing on stage for huge audiences. Nailing all of Turner’s iconic moves and flourishes, Bassett gives it her all and to call her anything but “electric” would be an understatement. The way she is able to effortlessly shift between the burning confidence Turner has when she’s on stage, to the refined strength it takes to raise three sons, to the damaged vulnerability that Ike forces her into, Bassett doesn’t hold back. As Turner Bassett paints a vibrant picture that is, in all honesty, one of the best portrayals of a real-life figure that I’ve ever seen in a movie. Her subsequent Academy Award nomination was an obvious no-brainer.
I’m a big fan of when movies make you stop and think about the story they’re telling, and I’m also a fan of when the ones based on true events make you want to research their subjects. What’s Love Got to Do with It made me do both. Obviously, those suffering from abuse often don’t let on about what’s going on behind closed doors, but I was just gobsmacked at how one minute the film would depict Ike putting Tina through the most gruesome of atrocities, and then she’d have to pick herself up and go record “Nutbush City Limits” or perform “Proud Mary” in front of thousands of people. It’s unbelievable to think that the heights of this amazing woman’s career were often shadowed by the height of the torture Ike put her through. At times the scenes depicting Ike’s abuse can be difficult to swallow, but they’re often followed by scenes of Tina’s steely determination to get back up and keep making music. It was such a palette cleanser and made me all the more hopeful that Tina would get her “fuck you, Ike” moment. More on that in a minute.
As Ike Turner, Laurence Fishburne is unrecognizable. I’m so used to seeing him in heartwarming, comedic, and heroic roles, so seeing him as this manipulative and vicious monster was an unexpected experience. By the way, history has cancelled Ike Turner, right? Surely there aren’t still people out there who look at him with reverence and go, “well, sure he did some bad stuff but he was a really amazing songwriter.”
No. Ike Turner was trash, and I repeatedly yelled at my TV, “men ain’t shit!”
Monstrous behaviour aside, Fishburne’s performance is impeccable and like Bassett’s, well-deserving of his Academy Award nomination. His transformation from a slick, suave musician who courted the naive and fresh-faced Anna Mae, to the exploitative and ill-tempered spouse who abused her for decades was like watching a roller-coaster. I never knew where Fishburne’s performance would take me and it was exhilarating to watch. Never has my heart raced as fast as it did when Tina grabbed the kids and escaped Ike in the middle of the night, desperate to make it to the bus station and put as much distance between them as possible. Oh bitch, and then my heart sank, IT SANK, when Ike turned up at the station and forced her back into the car and under his control. I was heartbroken. It’s a testament to Fishburne’s chilling performance that nothing but his presence is needed to send shivers down my spine.
For me, the highlight of What’s Love Got to Do with It is the end. Finally summoning the courage to divorce Ike, Tina gives up all the money, all the fame, and all the material goods if it means leaving Ike. All she leaves with is her pride, and the name “Tina Turner,” which she worked her ass off to earn, and endured hell to keep. Amazing. Simply amazing. A true “fuck you” moment if there ever was one. God is a woman and her name is Tina Turner. I literally can’t say anything else about that. Yes, it’s rare, but sometimes even writers are shocked into silence.
A compelling look at an inspiring figure and a true trailblazer for women in music, What’s Love Got to Do with It is a must for fans of movies about overcoming adversity and horror to find the good that’s waiting them for them on the other side.
Have you seen What’s Love Got to Do with It? What are your favourite biopics?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!