Attendees of the 2018 American Black Film Festival (ABFF) were treated to a screening of Whitney, the Kevin Macdonald-directed biopic about the greatest singer of our time, Whitney Houston and the powerful film illuminated the hopelessly tragic life of the icon.
While we already knew about the headline-grabbing incidents of drug abuse, marital strife with Bobby Brown, and legal issues with her father, John Houston, the documentary revealed a much-more disturbing tale than we thought we knew and left us shaken to the core by the numerous shockers that were unveiled.
If there’s one piece of advice we can offer those who plan to see this film, bring tissues. Bring all the tissues. One box will not be enough because the tears will be flowing from the moment you hear Whitney Houston hit the first high-note and will likely last long after you have left the theater.
Aside from the magnificently curated soundtrack of the film and the impressive way Macdonald used news snippets, performances and interview footage to tell Houston’s story, the most striking element is the fact that he managed to relate the story of her demise using the voices of the people who watched and sometimes helped her meet her tragic fate.
We learn that Cissy Houston was absolutely the driving force of Whitney’s path to fame and spent years prepping her for the life she knew she was destined to lead. We also learn that her biggest supporter and teacher was likely the cause of one of her most profound disappointments. Cissy raised her children in church only to end up having an affair with the minister, a fact that devastated Whitney Houston and prompted her to leave her mother’s home at age 18. Cissy and her husband split, but pretended to be married to help perpetuate their daughter’s wholesome public image.
Whitney’s father comes off as a wolf in sheep’s clothing who prided himself on double-dealing and controlling all situations. He made sure to keep himself and his other children at the center of Whitney’s career and allegedly embezzled millions from her, continuing his greedy ways until his death which was preceded by him filing a $100 million lawsuit against her.
Another through-line is how important Whitney’s relationship with Robyn Crawford was to her and the lengths her truest companion went to keep her safe, only to be run off by Bobby Brown and the Houston family, who still struggle to speak about her without cringing. The disdain Gary Garland-Houston has for his sister’s closest confidant is palpable and shows the depths of hatred Whitney must have feared from her family if she had admitted to being romantically involved with her alleged best friend turned lover.
Robyn Crawford’s absence from this film as well as any other projects about Whitney Houston is as much a testament to her loyalty and respect for Whitney than any worlds could convey. Photos showing her attending Whitney’s wedding to Bobby Brown are crushing, but prove Crawford always held Houston’s best interests above all else.
Both of Whitney’s brothers admit they were the ones who introduced her to drugs at 16 years old, while they were charged with protecting her as she rose to fame. They also admit that there were times they were collecting checks for doing little to nothing, and it’s made clear that everyone in the family benefitted from turning a blind eye to her mounting addiction battle.
Gary Garland-Houston also reveals he was molested by his cousin, Dee Dee Warwick, (Dionne’s sister) who died in 2008 and Mary Jones confirmed that Whitney admitted she was also a victim of her cousin’s sexual advances as a child.
The other soul-crushing truth we discover is just how neglected Bobbi Kristina Brown was by both of her parents and how the only daughter of the infamous couple never had a chance. Whitney’s fierce desire to protect her daughter from the same abuses she endured fueled her desire to keep Bobbi Kristina with her on the road and refusal to get her a nanny. Realizing just how badly she was cared for and the horrific things she witnessed throughout her life are beyond devastating. Pat Houston goes as far as saying she hated her mother and wished her dead.
The fact that both of them died too soon, in bathtubs with drugs in their systems is a tragically poetic end to their tumultuous lives.
Whitney hits theaters July 6.