The late Whitney Houston is receiving the documentary treatment in an upcoming movie titled Whitney, which hits the big screen on July 6th. In the recently released trailer, viewers see a glimpse into the archival footage from her estate that makes up the documentary. It’s clear in the short trailer that the pop star’s rise to stardom was anything but easy.
In the film my Miramax, you can hear Whitney say, “There were times when I’d look up to God and I’d go, ‘Why is this happening to me?” amongst clips of her in her prime on stage.
The documentary chronicles Whitney’s life, from the early years growing up in New Jersey, to her rise to superstardom in the late 1980s, and her personal struggles with drug addiction later on. And then of course her infamous and at times turbulent relationship with R&B baby boy Bobby Brown.
A few members of her family are interviewed in the movie, including her mom Cissy Houston and her brothers. They offer a rare glimpse into Whitney’s upbringing, with Whitney herself pointing to the pressure she felt to be great in a family of singers. “My mom was a little tough on Whitney because she knew what Whitney had,” said the singer’s brother.
Another interviewee teases bigger issues from Whitney’s childhood, saying, “There were always a lot of secrets,” he said. “If you don’t resolve things and you don’t deal with things, they never go away.” Perhaps he was alluding to the child molestation accounts against Whitney and her brother, Gary Houston, that are revealed in the documentary.
The director, Kevin Macdonald, said he interviewed many members of her entourage and family who claim the two were molested as children by their older female cousin Dee Dee Warwick. Dee Dee was a Grammy-nominated artist who was best known for singing backup vocals for Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. She was also the sister of Dionne Warwick, both of which were nieces of Whitney’s mother Cissy.
“I finally managed to persuade Mary Jones, who was Whitney’s longtime assistant and probably knew her in her last years more than anybody, to talk [on-camera],” Macdonald, told Vanity Fair on Wednesday regarding the charges announced in the film.
The documentary reveals another conversation Jones had with Houston on the subject just before her death. It’s clear the singer had never dealt with the subject properly. “[The singer] looked at me and said, ‘Mary, I was molested at a young age too. But it wasn’t by a man — it was a woman,'” Jones said. “She had tears in her eyes. She says, ‘Mommy don’t know the things we went through.’ I said, ‘Have you ever told your mother?’ She says, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, maybe you need to tell her.’ She said, ‘No, my mother would hurt somebody if I told her who it was.’ She just had tears rolling down her face, and I just hugged her. I said, ‘One day when you get the nerve, you need to tell your mother. It will lift the burden off you.'”
Dee Dee was never confronted with the accusations and died in 2008. She was 18 years older than Whitney.
The documentary trailer also previews clips of Whitney and her best friend and creative director Robyn Crawford. It was long speculated that Robyn was a lesbian and that her and Whitney were engaged in a romantic relationship. The rumor was never confirmed, but is cited to be a big reason for Bobby Brown’s jealousy in their marriage. Ultimately, Robyn left Whitney’s side. A move that later on in his own memoir, Brown says, “I really feel that if Robyn was accepted into Whitney’s life, Whitney would still be alive today.”
One interviewee in the trailer says, “Robyn was her safety net. Bobby was jealous. He wanted to be on the stage; he wanted to be [at] the forefront. And eventually, she stepped down to lift him up.”
Brown was a notorious ‘bad boy’ in the music industry when they met in 1989, while Whitney had the image of a nice girl. Many credit Brown for Whitney’s downward spiral into drugs and depression. It seems the interviewee’s in the film see her stepping down for him as a reason as well.
Images of Whitney at home and backstage in disheveled hair and makeup, often with an exhausted or absent look flash across the trailer. Clips of her family members in tears and questions trying to get to the bottom of her drug abuse play out. “Why didn’t Cissy do more?” “What was Whitney’s drug of choice?” “What was it that drove them apart?” “How much do you think you spend?” “Were they in love?”
But above all, the trailer highlights the love and admiration everyone had for her as a person and an artist. Singer Baby Face says her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl made people proud to be American. A scene of her meeting Nelson Mandela is shown. A clip of a fan holding a sign at her funeral reads, “Whitney Houston ‘You gave us more love than we will ever need.'”
Her presence is still very much felt and this documentary seems like the perfect, or as close to perfect, representation of her truth. Though her career and personal life may have been clouded by turmoil, her talent shines on forever and that’s what she should be remembered for.