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5 Must-Watch Music Docs

Tina—a documentary about the one-and-only powerhouse performer Tina Turner—makes its way to TVs around the world this Saturday, Mar. 27, on HBO Max.

Fresh off its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this month, the documentary tells Turner’s story of resilience, both onstage and off. After leaving her abusive personal and professional partner, Ike, she went her own way, achieving the improbable feat of launching a solo career as a woman in her 40s. In Tina, we get to witness that reinvention firsthand.

Turner has made a mark on the movie world, too. She sang theme songs for the James Bond film GoldenEye and for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and also starred as Aunty Entity in the latter. In 1993, her life story became a biopic, with Angela Bassett playing Turner (and earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination for doing so) in What’s Love Got to Do with It. Life comes full circle with Tina, then, because Bassett is one of the new doc’s interviewees.

Directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin know how to shape a moving, impactful nonfiction film. The moviemaking duo won the Oscar in 2012 for Best Documentary Feature for Undefeated, their awesome underdog story about a Tennessee high school football team. They also won an Emmy in 2017 for LA 92, their immersive archival portrayal of the 1992 uprising after the police beating of Rodney King, which in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing last year became a must-watch for many.

When we still have a music itch after Tina, we’ll start working through this list of other essential docs about legendary female performers. After all, what better way to rock out Women's History Month?

20 Feet from Stardom
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We get to stay in Turner’s world a little longer with this one, since her longtime backup singer Lisa Fischer is a main subject in the movie. This doc, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 86th Academy Awards, profiles Fischer and many more of music’s great, under-celebrated performers, whose success never quite outshined the legends they toured with (including Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Sting, Luther Vandross, Dionne Warwick and others). In a world that idolizes celebrity, is that enough? For some it is, and for some it isn’t—and this fascinating look at fame and glory explores why that might be.

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Equally interested in the often toxic and dehumanizing impacts of fame is this winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature two years after 20 Feet from Stardom. It’s chilling to see Amy Winehouse herself, in personal videos captured on the road and in recording studios, talk about how the press and paparazzi unnerve her, just years before her death by alcohol poisoning. Even though it’s a devastating story, Amy is also a treat because we get to spend time with the lively, sparkling and passionate legend before her life ended far too early.

Blackpink: Light up the Sky
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This making-of documentary tracks the meteoric rise of another global pop phenomenon, the South Korean girl group Blackpink. While their music chart dominance might seem to have come out of nowhere, Light Up the Sky details the experience of members Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa as they rigorously bootcamped for five-plus years in Seoul, a common practice for aspiring performers in the world of K-pop.

Amazing Grace
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Filmed in 1972, this Aretha Franklin concert film was intended for release the same year but instead got shelved thanks to trouble synchronizing audio tracks with film prints. Forty years and several lawsuits later, those technical troubles have clearly been resolved, because Amazing Grace sounds phenomenal. A recording of her two-night live gospel performances at a Baptist church in Los Angeles, the doc captures Franklin at the spirited peak of her career (the album recorded these same nights also became her best-selling). Although it takes place all within the walls of one small sanctuary, Amazing Grace is somehow as dynamic as any sold-out arena performance we’ve seen.

Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé
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Speaking of dynamic performances… This doc about Beyoncé’s history-making Coachella show is right there at the top. It must have been thrilling to have a ticket to the desert music festival when she became the first Black woman to headline, but director, writer and executive producer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has done a remarkable job making sure the experience translates for those of us watching on Netflix. The film is about more than just unparalleled entertainment and production value. Cameras were rolling during the 110+ days of prep, planning and rehearsals, and they captured the impassioned, personal process of Beyoncé building a family of more than 200 dancers and performers who vibrate with Black pride. Demonstrating her prowess as performer and artist (which her 2020 Black Is King film on Disney+ only reinforced), Homecoming is an electrifying must-see for music and movie lovers.

Don't forget: The 2021 Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25th at 8 pm ET.  Watch it live on ABC or go to ABC.com and log in with your TV provider. 

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