Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture Copyright © 1995 Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture
All rights reserved.
ISSN 1070-8286

Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 3(3) (1995) 78-82

Review of What's Love Got To Do With It

Director: Brian Gibson
Screenplay: Kate Lanier
Story: Tina Turner and Kurt Loder
Principal Actors: Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne
Release Information: Touchstone Pictures
MMPA Rating: R

"The lotus is a flower that blooms in the mud.
The thicker and deeper the mud, the more
beautiful the lotus blooms."
This quotation symbolizes the theme of What's Love Got To Do With It, a film about the famous singer Tina Turner. Despite Tina's oppressive environment, she still manages to "bloom" into a successful artist. This, however, is not a Cinderella tale. Tina's story portrays realistically the seemingly impossible dynamics encountered by a woman caught in a web of abuse. Here the power of spirit and support measures "success," not fame and money. Tina's popularity and the engagement of the media work together powerfully for a simple, but dramatic truth: spouse abuse is potentially a deadly maze, but escape is possible.

What's Love Got To Do With It brought attention to the issue of spouse abuse before the O.J. Simpson trial. Spouse abuse has gone from a taboo subject to a "buzzword" in today's conversations. This movie shows that spouse abuse does happen, even to people who do not fit the stereotype of an abused woman. By bringing this issue to light, more women have come forward to break the silence and seek help.

What's Love Got To Do With It is a powerful depiction of the dynamics of an abusive relationship. The movie shows the cycle of abuse and the emotions that battered women experience, such as guilt, denial, and fear. This film also depicts emotional abuse, which can be particularly dangerous because it can prohibit the woman from perceiving that there is a way out of the situation. Scenes in What's Love Got To Do With It illustrate the cycle of abuse that occurs with battered women. After Tina is abused Ike lavishes her with gifts and attention, which is characteristic of the [End page 78] "honeymoon" period in the abuse cycle. In the "honeymoon" period, the woman often believes that if she can "just do the right thing" things will improve. Tina provides an example of this thought process when she tells her friend that if Ike could just get a hit record "things will get better." In this scene, Tina also shows another aspect that is often prevalent with abused women: the excusing of the abuser's behavior. She says Ike is "just under a lot of pressure," and that this prompts his anger and outbursts.

Tina displays the varied emotions commonly experienced by battered women, particularly guilt, fear, and denial. Ike tells her frequently that she will leave him like everyone else in his life, so this causes Tina to feel guilty about leaving him. Also, Tina's mother left her when she was a child, so this makes leaving Ike even more difficult. She tells her friend Jackie that she just can't walk away because she knows what it is like to have "your own blood walk out on you." Along with the guilt, Tina also experiences fear and denial, which are prominent in abusive relationships. She is afraid of Ike's temper and tries to avoid conflict with him. Tina will not admit to her friends that Ike has been beating her. When Tina finally does, she justifies his behavior with a myriad of excuses.

Most critically, What's Love Got To Do With It shows emotional abuse, the dangerous kind of abuse that one often forgets or ignores. It is more difficult for a woman to see a "way out" when she is experiencing emotional abuse. Her self-esteem is usually low and she does not feel she can leave the situation. She may fear leaving, or may fear that she will be alone. Also when a woman endures emotional abuse, she may feel that the abuser controls her. The abuser may dominate her by regulating her finances and by making decisions for her. The woman may begin to feel a sense of "learned helplessness." If a woman feels that she has control over her life then it is easier for her to leave the abuser. On the other hand, if she feels powerless, she may stay despite the danger to her, even to the point of being fatally injured. Therefore, one cannot discount the seriousness of emotional abuse.

What's Love Got To Do With It displays emotional abuse poignantly. Ike manages the finances so that Tina is dependent upon him. He creates control over her family when he purchases a house for her mother. When Tina finally leaves Ike, she only has thirty-six cents. To her embarrassment, she has to ask a hotel [End page 79] manager if he will give her a room for the night without charge. In addition to the financial control over Tina, Ike makes career decisions for her. He forces her to sing even when she is sick and tired. One sees this clearly in a moving scene. After delivering a baby, Tina remains hospitalized for anemia. Ike, ignoring the doctor's orders, comes to get her in the middle of the night. It is obvious that he is more concerned about losing money for shows than he is about Tina's health.

Through the intricacy of the relationships, the movie reveals the power of manipulation and threat. From the very beginning, Ike weaves a web around Tina. He constantly plays on her sympathy, keeps her in a state of dependency, and assaults her sense of self. The emotional abuse becomes worse as the movie progresses. Tina finally reaches a point where she is so depressed she tries to commit suicide. Ike displays his callousness by threatening Tina in the ambulance. One can see that as Tina becomes more successful, the violence escalates. Ike becomes increasingly jealous as Tina begins to get more of the attention. He becomes so angry in one scene that he rapes her after a recording session. The cumulative effect is nearly unbearable for a viewer; one can begin to imagine then the despair and entrapment felt by the recipient of such cruel treatment.

Furthermore, the movie makes it obvious to a viewer that it is not always easy to "just walk away." From working with abused women, this author has seen how difficult it can be for the woman to leave the situation. There are often many factors involved, such as finances, children, and feelings about the abuser that make the act of leaving harder. A woman may be afraid of losing her children if she leaves, or that if she does keep them, they will not be provided for adequately. The decision to leave can be especially frightening for a woman if she fears for her safety. Another obstacle may be the woman's emotional dependence on the abuser. Solutions always seem simpler to those looking on from the outside. Many factors come into play in deciding to leave, making all situations more complex than they seem.

This story emphasizes the most significant factor for liberation of such women: outside help. Support from family, friends, or even strangers is absolutely critical in helping a woman leave. Through the support of her friend Jackie, Tina finally builds up the strength to leave the situation. People close to Tina [End page 80] had alienated her. She was alone during her painful experience, and when she did try to leave Ike her mother told him where she was. Jackie provided support to Tina throughout the movie and she helped Tina to envision a different life for herself. Tina reaches a point at the end of the movie where she is no longer afraid of Ike. In the unfolding of the story, one can see Tina becoming stronger and more disgusted with Ike's behavior. Tina reaches her limit when Ike abuses her before a show. Frustrated and angry, Tina fights back with all of her strength. The next scene shows Tina divorcing Ike and relinquishing everything to him except her show name. One senses that her friend Jackie helped Tina to gain both the will and strength to finally leave Ike. Jackie provided a lifeline during Tina's time of crisis and instilled a sense of hope.

In conclusion, this author believes that What's Love Got To Do With It can be used as a tool to provide a better understanding of spouse abuse. This movie conveys vital messages regarding spouse abuse:

  1. Spouse abuse can affect anyone, even famous people. Before this movie, it was uncommon to hear about famous stars and spouse abuse. Now with the O.J. Simpson trial going on, spouse abuse is no longer a neglected topic;
  2. The movie shows that it is not always easy for women to just "walk out" of an abusive relationship. As Maslin (1993) said in her review of the movie appearing in the New York Times, "it took a tremendous amount of courage for Tina to leave the relationship;"
  3. One rarely escapes abusive dynamics alone; women, and men, in such situations need as much help as they can get, from as many sources as possible; and
  4. Finally, leaving an abusive relationship can be difficult and may seem impossible. However, this movie provides a sense of hope and strength for those who might not see a "way out."
Bryanna Brady
University of Louisville
Department of Justice Administration [End page 81]


Maslin, J. (1993). "Tina Turner's Tale: Living Life With Ike and Without Him." The New York Times 9 June 1993, C15,C20. [End page 82]