When Whitney Houston sadly passed away on 11th February 2012 it was something so tragic and yet so apparently inevitable that everyone appeared to stand still for a while before the usual hoard of hungry media started feasting on her memory. Ironically, everything was said and written about Whitney Houston right after her death was part of the same alienating mechanism that worked incessantly throughout her brief yet astonishing life.
Nick Broomfield’s new documentary echoes the same questions the singer often asked to herself: ‘Can I Be Me?’: is it possible to give back to the memory of Whitney Houston the same complexity, richness and depth than the music business constantly withdrew from her?
Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney, Biggie & Tupac) and Rudi Dolezal (Michael Jackson) radically explores and subverts the mainstream narrative about Houston’s life and tragic death. Through a wealth of frank and empathetic interviews with hairdressers, backup singers and musicians, bodyguards and marketing people the documentary emancipates the singer from both her label as a ‘pop princess’ and ‘damned queen’
Eradicated from her background and roots, allegedly controlled over by her mother and whitewashed by label, Arista, whose aim was to make a pop princess. Whitney Houston played many roles: caring daughter, famous pop star, devoted wife and mother, fragile diva, doomed addict. Her sexuality, the crucial relationships with her father, her long-life friend Robyn Crawford, her husband Bobby Brown and her drugs and alcohol abuse are probed with a delicate but honest eye which never aims to find a culprit but to reveal her as a person.
Since her multifaceted personality and identity were constantly manipulated and edited to fit other people’s expectations, the documentary attempts to show and cherish the human, rather than the persona of Whitney Houston.
Broomfield explained. ‘What we tried to do was to explain it from her point of view.’ ‘The irony is that the wonderful person she actually was is so much more interesting than the image that was created around her.’
One of the final scenes in the documentary reveals a very distressed Houston after a performance. She is crying, but when the camera meets her eyes in the mirror, she smiles. An open, melancholic, sad smile. It might be who Whitney Houston really was: a smile through her tears, a human being with a story, many stories and layers, pivotal moments and wounds. The same amazing voice that made her known to the world was ironically so unique yet never listened to. View trailer:
Whitney ‘Can I Be Me’ is in cinemas from 12th June 2017. Check back here for more info.