Review: Whitney

Review: Whitney

By Unique Downtin

whitney

Whitney, a documentary about Whitney Houston helmed by Kevin Macdonald that made the rounds at prominent festivals at the end of 2017 and early 2018, finally hit theaters this summer. It is a wrenching gut punch as personal footage and photos of Houston and her family are shown.  Houston hailed from a modest but very successful musical family. When her musical abilities started to show as a child, her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, honed Whitney’s skills in church and later, on stage as Cissy’s own backup singer. From a young age, Whitney was very aware of how talented she was and she was confident that she was going places.

At just nineteen years, Houston signed with Arista Records under Clive Davis. Her first two albums Whitney Houston and Whitney went number one on the Billboard charts with seven consecutive hits including “Saving All My Love for You”, “I Want to Dance With Somebody” and “Greatest Love of All”. Unless you have been living under a rock you know about the meteoric rise of Houston from an 80’s Pop/R&B star to a box office superstar in the 90’s. Houston starred in and created hit soundtracks for The Bodyguard, Waiting To Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife. You also know about her fall from grace, the marriage to Bobby Brown, the drug use and the erratic behaviors that eventually lead to her death at just 48 years old.

“She held a secret in and instead of seeking to heal that wound, it festered and the world lost one of its greatest voices because of it.”

Macdonald has been granted unprecedented access to personal footage from Houston’s early days on tour, along with interviews with her mother, ex-husband, brothers, professional collaborators, and personal assistants among others. The entire film deals with the notion of what it means to be young, gifted and black. Houston knew how talented she was but still felt the pressures of conforming and competing with her contemporaries of the day. Her insecurities play out in backstage home video footage as Houston worries about the gaining popularity of both Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson. Her mother consoles her by reassuring Whitney’s naturally talented voice, and reminding her daughter that she does not have to rely on theatrics.

The final moments of the film, when the biggest secret from her past is revealed, makes you reexamine everything about Houston’s life. When “Greatest Love of All” is reprised towards the end of the film, the song now carries a different meaning and for this viewer, it always will. What surprised me about the film is just how much Houston is like all of us; She held a secret in and instead of seeking to heal that wound, it festered and the world lost one of its greatest voices because of it. Surprisingly the film’s big reveal has nothing to do with Houston’s sexuality. Very early in the film, many of the interviewees make it known that they knew of Houston’s fluidity and that she was attracted to both genders. The film does not shy away from her relationship with childhood friend, Robyn Crawford, who unfortunately declined to be interviewed.

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