Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner and Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” Submitted photo

“The lotus is a flower that grows in the mud. The thicker and deeper the mud, the more beautiful the lotus blooms.” — Buddhist chant

So begins director Brian Gibson’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” with screenplay by Kate Lanier, the tear-stained story of a poor, mistreated little black girl named Anna Mae Bullock, who grew to become a tornado-force singer and spent most of the rest of her life in the heat of the spotlight while being brutally mistreated.

If you come from Nutbush, Tennessee, where the mud in a rainy summer is thick and really deep, you can wait tables and die poor without anyone knowing or caring who you are.

It was here in the early ’50s where the lotus we would one day come to know, to watch, to listen to, was sprouting inside Anna Mae Bullock.

Anna Mae survived the dark childhood of all time to one day come up from the mud of Nutbush to walk onto Ike Turner’s cheap club stage in east St. Louis, and diminish his light, while turning hers up to maximum brightness.

The story begins one morning during church choir rehearsal, with the flock of singers singing “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”


This little girl (RaéVen Kelly) in the front row, no more than 6 inches tall, starts belting like, well, like Tina Turner in miniature, and we can see where we’re going. And that will be to heartbreak city when her selfish mother breaks away from a lout of a husband, and takes the older sister with her, leaving little Anna Mae crying in the rain.

We, who sat in the dark watching 1993’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” knew where it was going, as we watch little Anna grow up to go on stage with a 6-foot-3 monster called Ike Turner (a hypnotizing Laurence Fishburne).

We all know the guts and glory story now, how the little Anna Mae grew up, moved to St. Louis, reunited with the mother who drove away in the dark leaving little Anna with her grandmother.

Anna would miraculously grow up to walk into a cheap North St. Louis night spot in the 1950s, and after being passed over once by the egotistic Ike Turner, went home and with advice from her sister Allie (Phyllis Yvonne Stickney) got candied up and went back to a retry, that turned her life around.

That night, she captured Ike’s dark heart, when he hired Anna to be his side kick.

Ike was a glossy black leather creep with cheap cologne and dollar store suits, already a chain store night singer, who knew, when she knocked that night’s audience out, he was pocketing a bankable asset.


The rest, as they say, is history. The Oscars came and went, leaving Tina Turner and Ike just holding onto a cocktail glasses at night’s end when Tom Hanks won for “Philadelphia.”

At first viewing, that I went to see under pressure from my kids, I was unimpressed by the picture, the music and the neon noise, but could see why everyone was shouting about Basset.

Seeing it again this week on a screening at the Maine International Film Festival, I saw again not only the gifts of Angela Bassett, but the talent of Jenifer Lewis, who played the “anything for a buck” mother who, like Ike, smelled the sweet smell of the perfume of cash.

It’s still almost impossible to sit through the horrible abuse heaped on Tina by the slimy Ike. But it’s history now, Tina is gone, the suffering is over and the legend lives on.

Thanks to programmer Ken Eisen for bringing Turner’s story back to the big screen, where it belongs.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.