06 July 2018| No Comments on Whitney     by Sean Chavel



The 1980’s was a very happy time in history when you filter in all the pop culture iconography, the fashion fads, and the fun and empowerment of pop music (much, much happier than where we are now in 2018). Whitney Houston lent powerfully to the good times. I was young at that time, and I remember I felt she was the most beautiful black woman in the world. Whitney, a documentary that strives if anything to shed light, has snippets of the anything goes dorky but wonderful music videos that I enjoyed in youth. When she was criticized for her music not being black enough, that it had a “whitey” consumerism to it, I recalled all this. I had thought at the time she was too great to let anything cynical like that bother her and that she had the power and strength to brush it off.

I see it all now that Whitney was an incredibly insecure person. That she was booed at the 1989 Soul Train Music Awards and took it way too hard was not the only time she was vulnerable.

Her success hit a high point nevertheless in 1992 with the release of her first movie “The Bodyguard,” a silly but watchable popcorn flick co-starring Kevin Costner – which now seems like a little bit bigger of a deal because it was a taboo color-blind love story with a memorable final kiss that blew away all racial prejudices. I was so into Whitney at that time because the promotional music videos that played were at the time, to me, were pretty hot. In just a few short years thereafter, the niceness, the sparkle, the gracefulness, the radiance of Whitney seemed to deteriorate in a blink of an eye.

This Kevin MacDonald-directed documentary, which features tons of family interviews who are only rarely over-protective, and far more often more blunt and candid, has some probing interest in figuring out why Whitney the sweetheart became lost and why her marriage didn’t work, and why she descended into drugs. Her husband Bobby Brown was a rapper whose fame was almost predestined to fade into oblivion, and when Whitney’s 1992 year happened, he got jealous and reckless (in my own youth, it was all too easy to hate Bobby when I saw the tabloids). But it was Whitney’s brothers who were more into drugs than Bobby. There is home video footage of her blasted on drugs, and Bobby is the co-dependent. Another discovery, Whitney’s father – while he loved her – was consumed by greed of making more and more money for the Houston family until his capriciousness wrecked family unity for all.

In 1999, Whitney got her biggest contract to date but her fandom disappeared simultaneously, and her public relations problems led to disaster (The Diane Sawyer interview is given reprisal). The film could have said more about what consequences there were for Arista Records. The film could have said more about the other Houston movies, too (“Waiting to Exhale,” “The Preacher’s Wife”). I also believe Whitney’s mother Cissy seems to say less in the later section of the movie, is that a gaffe or in the editing room or did she became more non-participant as filming with MacDonald went along? Those are some complaints. As for where the rest of the film goes, well, the Houston family drama only worsens until she goes, for years, into self-imposed hibernation.

“Whitney” brought up happy memories for me at the beginning. But this is an overall sorrowful documentary. Eventually we get to its major shocking revelation: She was a victim of sexual abuse of her famous niece Dee Dee Warwick. That early abuse fed into some pretty unhealthy obsessions in Whitney’s later life, and she seemed to have hastily married Bobby just to push herself into chasing after a fairy tale marriage that was anything but.

I suppose I was deeply saddened by this documentary, too. But only because I loved her so much.

122 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Kurt & Courtney” (1998); “Amy” (2015); “Whitney: Can I Be Me” (2017); “A Star is Born” (2018).


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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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