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Opinion: Whitney Houston biopic unfairly emphasizes singer’s weaknesses

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Yaya DaCosta and Arlen Escarpeta star as Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown Courtsey of Zack Zeman

Yaya DaCosta and Arlen Escarpeta star as Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown
Courtsey of Zack Zeman

On Saturday, Lifetime premiered “Whitney,” a biopic of iconic and critically acclaimed female vocalist Whitney Houston. Viewers tuned in to see director Angela Bassett’s take on the life and times of Houston, and many fans were less than impressed with what they saw. Twitter was ablaze with comments, both positive and negative, using the #Whitney hashtag, which trended surrounding the film’s release.

Houston, who died in 2012, was more than just an earth-shattering voice, she was a beacon to black women, following in the steps of women like Chaka Khan and continuing to pave to road for female vocalists of today such as Beyoncé and Mariah Carey. Houston brought intimacy and clarity to her performances, making her the most-awarded female artist of all time. It’s known that Houston struggled with relationship issues and drug use, but these are just contextual factors in the life of a woman who was so much more than that.

This is where I find a lot of issues with Bassett’s directing choices when making “Whitney.” One of the most overwhelming responses was that for a story about Houston, we see Houston’s story strictly through the context of her relationship with her ex-husband, performer Bobby Brown. This is problematic on many levels: As a biopic, it robs Houston of her own context as an artist and individual, and cinematically, it places Houston in a secondary role to Brown, who enjoys more attention from the film.

Although the biopic is titled “Whitney,” the movie doesn’t begin with Houston as a young girl, or even as a budding vocalist. Instead, it begins with the 1989 Soul Train Awards where Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown first meet. From this moment on, Whitney is either with, talking about or thinking about Bobby. However, Brown is able to explore his emotions separate from Whitney, painting her as a dependent, needy wife and Brown as an independent and conflicted man. “Whitney,” a film about one of American entertainment’s most influential women, drops the ball when it comes to depicting Bobby and Whitney equally.

Many viewers also commented on the sometimes-overwhelming focus placed on Bobby Brown. Angela Bassett responded to these concerns on her Twitter, @ImAngelaBassett, saying, “#Whitney and Bobby IMPACTED each other greatly. I wanted to show that their LOVE was stronger than either of them knew it could be.”

However, during the hour and 27 minutes Bassett had to tell Houston’s story, viewers heard more pillow talk and overstruck whimpers than the songs that made Houston great.

Amid the passionate online response, Lifetime is also showing encores of the biopic throughout the week and also has the full film available for streaming on www.mylifetime.com. If you are like me, however, pass up “Whitney” and watch the real Whitney alongside Brandy in “Cinderella” from 1997. Now THAT is cinematic genius.

 

10 comments

  1. You summed it up perfectly. What a waste and a disrespect to a woman who made some mistakes yes but did so much more. Where was the music? The class? The influence? The awards? The trailblazing? The talent? They didn’t even get the stunning beauty this iconic woman possessed.

  2. I have to say I too was surprised and greatly disappointed. There is enough physical evidence to show that Bobby Brown certainly was no victim. I don’t think he should be punished but he shouldn’t be glamorized either. And Miss Basset clearly had and has(judging from her interviews)a thing for Brown and was certainly no friend to Whitney. What a coward she turned out to be since she couldn’t voice her obvious jealousy when Whitney was alive.

  3. I have to say I too was surprised and greatly disappointed. There is enough physical evidence to show that Bobby Brown certainly was no victim. I don’t think he should be punished but he shouldn’t be glamorized either. And Miss Basset clearly had and has(judging from her interviews)a thing for Brown and was certainly no friend to Whitney. What a coward she turned out to be since she couldn’t voice her obvious jealousy when Whitney was alive.

  4. I recorded the movie and just watched it last night and will agree, it was very disappointing. I also recorded and watched the Bobby Brown interview that was shown after the movie. He sounds like he was Mr. Goodytwoshoes in the interview. Both were terrible.

  5. Also, the woman who played Whitney was terrible. They could have found someone else who could actually match Whitney’s mannerisms. Ms. DaCosta didn’t even come CLOSE.

  6. Oh, and, the woman who played Whitney wasn’t even close in Whitney’s mannerisms. They could have casted better. Ms. DaCosta didn’t cut it, not even CLOSE.

  7. I have yet to see the film, but based on the article I can honestly say I’m not surprised considering this was a Lifetime production. I don’t know if they completely run around the point of a biopic for legal issues or what, but it really is a shame they put out such disappointing movies. I watched their Aaliyah biopic whenever it came out, and it had a similar feel. I then read online that her family wouldn’t allow Lifetime to have access to certain things (her music being the big one), so they had to work around this. Also, they romanticized her relationship with R. Kelly…like A LOT. Also, they didn’t even cover the plane accident that ultimately led to her death. They literally posted text on the screen and that was it. I think Lifetime needs to NOT do anymore “biopics” because they clearly are just butchering them. Whitney Houston was an incredible voice, and I don’t think it’s fair to characterize her entire career by using Bobby Brown in every faucet. They should just stick to the usual.

  8. Shame on you Angela. I have lost total respect for you. You basically had Whitney using drugs the entire movie. You could have at least started the movie with Whitney singing in the church. You did not do her any kind of justice at all. Was it for the money. Well shame on you. I hope Oprah see this movie and make it over the right way and put it on the BIG SCREEN where she belongs.

  9. First let me say this article shows the generational differences big time!!! No one in my generation would put Beyonce (weak pop voice) in a category with Whitney, Streisand, Celion,Patti or Mariah (who stood beside Whitney, didn’t pave a way)! Whitney was much more than Saint Bobby (made me laugh) and drugs. She left a “great” musical legacy that deserves more than a low budget tacky Lifetime movie! My buckeye child gave me Whitney Live for my B day (12-24)! Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne got standing ovations in my theater for their brilliant portrayals! One day when the family heals I hope they along with Babyface and Clive bring Whitney’s Oscar worthy “Lady Sings the Blues” story to a theater (Anika Ani Rose and Anthony Mackie whom my child met at Juilliard)!!! “One Moment in Time” helps me cherish the days my buckeye alum broke high school and collegiate records…….

  10. @Theresa-A lot of us have been saying we hope Oprah brings this story to the big screen. My Juilliard child made me get to NY to see Oprah’s The Color Purple. We had a ball!!!

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