While expectations are probably low, seeing as the Houston family has been relatively cagey regarding some of the most controversial details of her life, this documentary tells the truth — even during moments when its interviewed subjects would rather not.
“Drugs has nothing to do with her life,” a deadpan Bobby Brown said in an on-camera interview for the film. However producers pushed, asking more, with her brothers talking about her introduction, addiction, and long history with drugs. Producers also delved deeper into another controversial facet of Whitney's life: her friend Robyn.
“Whitney was what we would call now ‘fluid,’” said Rickey Minor, famed musical director, who worked with Whitney for a decade.
Whitney's brother Gary discusses the relationship with the woman he refers to as having been “something evil,” and “wicked,” saying he tried to keep Robyn away from Houston, but to little avail.
Pat Houston, Whitney's sister-in-law and executor to her estate, told ESSENCE of the relationship “the family doesn’t pay attention to that as much as the world does.”
If the family doesn’t, the film certainly does.
Robyn’s contentious relationship with John Houston, Whitney's father, and her longtime friction with Bobby Brown take up a solid portion of the documentary. It seems to have been not only a partnership that helped balance Whitney, but the relationship’s demise as we see it unfold on the silver screen seemed to, launch the renowned singer into the beginning of a dark period that followed the singer to the end of her life.
Those things had long been rumored. Yet what many probably wouldn’t have known was that Mary Jones, Whitney’s assistant was by her side up until the very last half-hour of her life.
Mary says that Whitney revealed to her something that was one of her greatest demons, something Wilson says the singer never told the most influential person in her life — her mother Cissy. With a bit of hesitation, and after being asked specifically, Mary reveals that Whitney told her she’d been molested by her aunt, Dee Dee Warwick, sister to Dionne Warwick.
Pat said learning of this was incredibly hard for Cissy.
“She was devastated,” Pat told ESSENCE. “She’s 84 years old and this is something that happened over 40 years ago.” She went on to say “she didn’t take it very well, to hear that not one but two children were molested.”
While a number of revelations throughout the Kevin MacDonald-directed feature proved heartbreaking, there were some memorable moments, reminding viewers of Whitney's immense, untouchable talent.
Among them, Rickey Minor discussing the iconic 1991 performance of the national anthem at the Super Bowl XXV, admitting that Whitney hadn’t truly prepared before recording it, heard the arrangement he’d done, and said she’d “got it.” “What you heard that day was her first take,” Minor said, of the lip-synced performance.
And in a rather candid discussion about Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul, between Cissy and Whitney, that will leave you clear on how they felt about her then-rivals in the industry. Let’s just say they didn’t see it for either of them.
The documentary is well worth the time and money to see it in theaters, whether you’re a stan, a light fan, or someone with a cursory knowledge of Houston’s life outside her music. You’ll learn something you didn’t know, you’ll hear her sing in ways you probably haven’t before, and you’ll have a greater appreciation for who she was and just what happened to the voice.
And if you’re wondering what else to expect from Whitney’s estate in the months and years to come Pat said that there’s definitely more on the way for fans, including discussion of the (now infamous?) hologram tour, a rarities album that will share never-before-heard recordings of Whitney throughout the years, and maybe even a gospel-duets album as well.