Screen Gems

If we ever meet God, we won’t be surprised if she’s actually Tina Turner


Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Radiant: Tina

Has any other woman ever rocked out as hard as Tina Turner? The leggy, volcano-voiced siren first hit it big in the 1960s opposite her then-husband Ike Turner, sang her way through the 1970s, got divorced and then reinvented herself as a pop icon in the 1980s. Along the way, she contributed some of the most successful and memorable musical hits of the 20th century, including “River Deep, Mountain High,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Private Dancer,” and drag staple “Proud Mary.” Turner’s unique vocals, high-energy stage performances and iconic looks also lent themselves to many a drag act over the years…not to mention many a drunken gay man singing karaoke.

Tina, the new documentary now streaming on HBO Max, gives Ms. Turner the full biopic treatment, examining her turbulent life, abusive marriage, rise, fall and resurrection as a musical sensation and her enduring legacy in extreme–often shocking–detail. Featuring interviews with Turner herself, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett (who played Tina in the delightful scripted biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It), friends and family, the film examines how and why Turner resonated with such a broad audience and why the singer–still luminous at age 81–has stepped away from public life. Turner’s unforgettable music also features large in the film, which only adds to the entertainment value.

By now the details of Turner’s very abusive marriage to Ike have become the stuff of showbiz legend, and a subject Tina would prefer not to discuss. She does so again here, possibly for the last time. The film adds a masterstroke, however, in the form of uncut archive interview footage of Ike himself, stammering to make excuses like a frightened child. It’s a jarring contrast between Ike’s image as a monster (which he was) and the towering strength of Tina herself, calmly discussing the years of torture she endured.

We also suspect it’s that calm strength that attracted a devoted LGBTQ fanbase to Turner from the outset of her career, just as much as her music did. She’s a woman to emulate on all levels. Featuring candid revelations, stories of profound inner resolve and a soundtrack of unforgettable music, we recommend a visit to the church of Tina Turner. It’s not an experience anyone will soon forget.

Streams on HBO Max.