The BRWC Review: Whitney


Three years of investigation have resulted in Whitney – the untold story. Kevin Macdonald, the man who brought us Searching for Sugarman and Last King of Scotland both of which took a different, refreshing angle on demystifying icons. However, with Whitney, it is mostly off key but in a few places, it does hit the high notes through what is unsaid.

The opening sequence of Whitney reveals the woman rather than the icon in her own words. Whitney Houston is retelling a recurring dream/nightmare where she is running and wakes up exhausted. Her mother tells her she is running from the devil, but as we watch the film and read between the lines we start to question if this devil is more familiar than anyone wants to say – her family. At the tender age of 21 Whitney was exhausted and when she went too soon at 48 she was still exhausted.

Kevin Macdonald scores interviews with her brothers Michael and Gary Garland Houston, one of whom introduced her to drugs long before Bobby Brown, the sacrificial lamb and street boy appeared on the scene. Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother features prominently and it is she who helped Whitney harness and control her gift and together with Clive Davis, who packaged Whitney, gave the world this indelible legacy. Whitney Houston like Prince, Amy and George Michael, these talents only appear once in a lifetime and are often damaged by the very ones who are supposed to protect. In Whitney’s case, it was her mother’s sister Dee Dee Warwick who was the alleged paedophile who molested both Whitney and her brother Gary. In Gary’s words, they stayed a lot with family whilst their mother was trying to reach the dizzy heights of fame. It was Whitney, and in some respects, her mother was and is still living through that fame, that achieved and excelled those heights.

The glaring omission from the documentary is Robyn Crawford, deemed as evil by the family no doubt because she never hid her sexuality. She is a lesbian. Also, the jealousy that she was the one who Whitney truly confided in and loved in the purest sense of the word.

As a black woman, I watched Whitney and felt something that many others won’t have. Black women are not allowed to fail by society or their family. The failure which is truly subjective is viewed negatively by the very ones who are supposed to love you, the family. It is this that is the most interesting aspect of Whitney the role her family played in her fame, demise and psyche. When she failed and let the drugs envelop her, she didn’t just fail herself but them as well and that was unforgivable.

Whitney was the soundtrack to my Tweens, teens, twenties and beyond. She has a song for my every mood: heartbreak, joy, sadness, drunk dancing and was the first black superstar I identified with.  This is the Whitney I know and loved and there are glimmers of it in this documentary especially when she sings the national anthem, the raw footage of a young Whitney and never forget she’s one of the biggest female singers of all time. We needed more songs, a deeper investigation and less family interference not least because one of the executive producers is Patricia Houston. Ultimately the final product is still family controlled.

Whitney is on general release in cinemas nationwide.

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