In Theatres: 
Jul 06, 2018
Running Time: 
120 minutes

The question Whitney struggles to answer is the one legendary singer would ask herself and her loved ones when times got hard, “Why is this happening to me?” Through interviews with family, friends, and coworkers and rare behind the scene footage possible answers are presented and dissected. This isn’t so much a celebration of life, but an investigation of the downward spiral.

For years young Whitney and her siblings bounced from home to home as their mother, Cissy Houston toured as a backup singer for well known musical acts of the era. Once Cissy settled she began to focus on grooming Whitney to surpass every success she had experienced. Multiple days a week were spent in the church with the choir and in private rehearsals, creating a close and intense relationship between the two. Cissy seeded Whitney with her dreams and the bounty was beyond what any could have anticipated, but it was not without cost.

When Clive Davis of Columbia Records signed Whitney in 1983, he had to find a way to package the singer for cross-over, mainstream (read: white audience) appeal. It was decided Whitney, called Nippy by at home, would be modeled into a pop princess, all pastels and joy. Polished and poised high 80’s glam, even her divorced parents would show up to events as if together, to complete the fantasy. Whitney had to be flawlessly ideal while Nippy was being given bags of weed and cocaine for her sweet sixteen.

While it worked, her black fans, her earliest and most fervent supporters felt rejected as her sound moved further from soul and R&B. Al Sharpton went as far as to boycott “Whitey” Houston. It all reached a crush peak when Whitney was booed at the 1988 Soul Train Awards. "My success happened so quickly that when I first came out, black people felt 'she belongs to us,'" Whitney explained in the aforementioned Ebony piece. "And then all of a sudden the big success came and they felt I wasn't theirs anymore, that I wasn't within their reach. It was felt that I was making myself more accessible to whites, but I wasn't." (x)

While the film posits that it was in this vulnerable moment that Whitney met Bobby and fell for him, it seems more likely she fell for him because of their similar backgrounds. She got to be Nippy with him and he understood what it was like for a girl from Newark to become superstar. Bobby was allowed to be more of himself in his performances while the Whitney persona had to remain on even after the lights are down. That freedom had to be as alluring as her talent and beauty was to him.

During the film it is revealed and supported, that Whitney suffered sexual abuse during those early, unsettled years by her aunt, singer Dee Dee Warwick. It was a secret she shared only with her siblings and her personal assistant for fear of the repercussions Warwick would face. Without doubt this is the motivation behind her later decision to take Bobbi Christina on tour when she was child. Unfortunately this impacted Bobbi in other ways, making her witness to her parents instability and addictions, while isolating her from other children. The friends and family interviewed seem to agree that Bobbi was failed as a child. She was a bystander to her parents’ worst behaviors and habits without anyone to advocate for her. One relative stated that she was treated more as of a companion than a child who never had a chance.

The one person those interviewed were not eager to discuss and the one person fans want to hear from the most is Robyn, Whitney’s best friend and constant companion. Whitney’s former music manager believes Robyn was so disliked because, outside of Cissy, Robyn was the only one Whitney would listen to. He stated that they did have a relationship and Whitney, “would have been today what they call fluid”. Whitney’s brother, however, likens her to an evil manipulator whose lesbianism is part of that evil. Whitney’s personal assistant believes there was only a relationship as a result of “sexual confusion” as a reaction to the sexual abuse Whitney suffered.

An icon in millions of hearts, the death of Whitney Houston and the untimely demise her daughter, Bobbi Christina haunt this film. It is more informative than it is good and at times wants to tell you what to think. It paints a picture of a child who wasn’t protected, scarred by her parents divorce, not allowed to be herself and be with whom she loved, used and betrayed by her father, tortured by her husband’s fragile ego in the unhealthy codependent marriage, all while battling a near lifelong addiction to drugs and alcohol. Her story gives you the same chills as her stunning vocals have, but the pain and longing is heavier than any of her songs.

Maria Jackson
Review by Maria Jackson
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