3 September 2017



This excellent documentary movie had its television debut last night (2nd September 2017) on BBC2. I actually chose to forgo the last half-hour of the first X FACTOR programme of the new season just to catch WHITNEY in its entirety, such has been the buzz around it of late.

It's basically THE WHITNEY HOUSTON STORY, from her days as a gospel singer in the 'hood to her tragic death in a lonely hotel bathtub in 2012. Accidental death by drowning, with heart disease and cocaine use listed as contributing factors. That was the official verdict. She was only forty-six years old. What a waste of a life.

Whitney's self-titled debut album in 1985 was the fast-selling debut album by any woman in history. This was only the first of many records she was to break over the course of her twenty-seven-year-long career. She's the most awarded female in music history. I won't even attempt to list her awards and accolades here. You guys can look 'em all up online if you're so inclined...!

Even by the age of twelve, she had a huge gospel voice, cultivated by her mother, the famous gospel singer Cissy Houston. (Whitney's cousin was Dionne Warwick, by the way. What a pedigree!) We see Whitney, nicknamed 'Nippy' by her family, singing in church all dressed in angelic white, just like how the young Tina Turner started out.

Speaking of music legend Tina Turner, check out the scene in which Whitney and Bobby Brown impersonate/recreate with much hilarity the incident in which Ike Turner infamously forces Tina to 'Eat the cake, Anna-Mae.' It's kind of ironic and very, very sad.

The record executives who discovered Whitters must have been- excuse my French- jizzing themselves at the thought of all the moolah they were going to make off the back of this young diva-in-the-making. They were clear about one thing, however. They didn't want 'a female James Brown.' They didn't want Whitney to appear to be too black, in other words.

They marketed her as if she were a white singing sensation, the new Mariah Carey or Barbra Streisand, the singers in whose footsteps they wanted Whitney to follow. She almost had to deny her colour, in a way, for which she was accused by some members of the public of 'selling out.' Denying her blackness, as it were. Denying her musical roots.

That was hard for her. She had to do what the record company bigwigs told her to do, after all, if she wanted to make the big time. It seems like the kind of situation where you're damned if you do but you're even more damned if you don't, so you might as well just tell everyone else to go to hell and go right on ahead making your music and your money. 

The title of the film, CAN I BE ME?, comes from Whitney's desire to be herself in the music she made and maybe in her life as well.

Robyn Crawford, Whitney's former Creative Director and long-time close friend, features heavily in the film. Accusations of lesbian affairs dogged Whitney and Robyn at one time, leading Oprah Winfrey to ask Whitney's mother Cissy in 2013 if the two women were gay for each other. Cissy replied that she honestly didn't know, but that she would have disapproved the shit out of it if it had been true.

Robyn and Whitney were so close that they were like inseparable twins, apparently. Robyn had a lot of influence over the singing superstar. I must admit that I liked the Robyn I saw in the film. Quiet, not a show-off, just a really good friend of Whitney's who- hopefully- had only the star's best interests at heart.

One person who didn't share Whitney's love for Robyn was Whitney's showbiz husband Bobby Brown. Bobby, the self-styled 'Bad Boy' of R 'n' B, was maybe not as good for Whitney
as he might have been. 

According to the documentary, Whitney was already into drugs and getting high when she met Bobby, and Bobby was already a heavy drinker when he met Whitney. When they got together, however, they each started doing both. Recipe for disaster much?

They became a substance-abusing co-dependent couple who apparently gave each other 'acceptance.' They understood each other's 'pain and pressures.' It looks like what they really gave each other was permission to continue abusing cocaine and booze, and I do believe that the correct term for that sad state of affairs is called co-dependency.

There was obvious sexual chemistry between the pair of them. We see them performing together on Whitney's 1999 tour, probably the last time Whitney was on top- or nearly on top- of her game, and the air around them fairly crackles with the sexy electricity between them.

No-one's denying that they loved each other. They created a beautiful daughter together, after all, little Bobbi Kristina who in 2015 suffered a premature death as tragic and lonely as her mother's. Whitney would have been heartbroken at what happened to her little girl.

Bobbi Kristina's like a pretty little pixie when she appears onstage in the film alongside her glamorous Mum, who clearly loved her daughter but the need to take drugs was just too strong. Long before the end, Whitney was taking the drugs no longer just for 'fun' but because she 'needed them.'

There's a lot to wonder at- and worry about- in Whitney's marriage to Bobby Brown. In the film, he describes her as 'the craziest wife' (I mean, is that an appropriate way to describe your wife and the mother of your child?). Whitney in turn dismisses his womanizing with the words 'Boys will be boys.' I doubt somehow if that's how she really felt about his cheating.

Anyway, Bobby and Robyn vied constantly for Whitney's attention and their dislike (maybe even hatred?) of each other often spilled over into physical altercations. Whitney poured oil on the troubled waters but it must have been terribly stressful for her all the same.

Tensions between Robyn and Bobby had reached boiling point by the end of the 1999 tour. Bobby wanted rid of Robyn. He got his wish. Robyn left and stayed away. We're not told in the film if Robyn disapproved of Whitney's drug-taking and was trying to get her clean. It looks from the film like Robyn didn't return to the picture even after Whitney and Bobby divorced, so there's no doubt that her departure would have had its own effect on the chain of events.

There were other factors too which contributed to Whitney's state of mind. Being sued for one hundred million dollars by the father she idolised must have really hurt. Her real-life bodyguard from 1989-1995, David Roberts, was mysteriously 'let go' from his position after he attempted to seek help for Whitney's drug-taking.

At the start of the film, she mischievously makes her audience wait for the big money note in the song 'I Will Always Love You' from the movie THE BODYGUARD. Whitney starred in the 1992 film alongside actor-director Kevin Costner. Its soundtrack was the best-selling soundtrack of all time.

Well, whaddya know about that? I've always hated that bloody song, but it's probably more because of all the times it's been brutally murdered by X Factor contestants than because of Whitters, who at least delivered it flawlessly, the way it was meant to be and needs to be delivered. There's no better song for exposing your musical weaknesses. It's a bit like the Celine Dion song from the movie TITANIC in that respect. Truly awful, but if you f**k it up it'll sound even worse, haha.
'Whitney just wanted to be normal,' declares her drugs counsellor near the end of the film. Some chance of that. The stress of supporting her enormous entourage of family and friends (her family members all worked for her in some capacity) must have been immense all on its own.

She had so many people around her all of the time. Why didn't any of them help her, or is that unfair? When a person's hell-bent on self-destruction, maybe an army of friends couldn't help them. And if more than a handful of these friends are taking drugs themselves, well, it's not exactly in their interests to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, I guess. Sad, very sad, but 
possibly true. The whole story is sad. Call me cynical, but it makes for unmissable viewing.

On digital platforms, Blu-ray & DVD from September 4th, 2017

This is in conjunction with DOGWOOF, the UK's leading documentary company, and PREMIER ENTERTAINMENT, ARTS AND CULTURE.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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