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Read: Betrayal is at the heart of the new Whitney documentary

Whitney Houston is an enigma – someone so incredibly talented and beautiful, adored by millions of people across the earth. Yet her life was blighted by abuse, neglect and an addiction to drugs that would ultimately kill her.

So how do you make sense of this person? A number of films have tried, and this year Kevin Macdonald attempts it with his documentary Whitney.

Filled with interviews with family members, associates and hangers-on the film tries to give an in-depth picture of the singer through the people who knew her best. And to provide her own voice, the film uses a lot of archival home movies of Whitney shot on tour, backstage and at home with her family and friends.

With this level of intimacy it ought to give us a pretty strong insight into what went right and what went wrong in the diva’s life. In many ways the documentary delivers that and we discover some disturbing truths. She was introduced to drugs on her 16th birthday by an uncle; she was pushed around by her father and mother. Her father embezzled money from her, and there were allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of a cousin. Lurking in the background, but vehemently denied by some were allegations Whitney was a lesbian but was prevented from living an authentic life.

The clear message from this film is that Whitney was surrounded by people on the make, who, after her death, are not afraid to blame others for what happened to her. These were mostly family members who all claimed to know her and love her, but ultimately their own self-interest clashed with her needs.

All through this movie I kept asking myself why did no one really stand up and protect Whitney both from herself and from gruelling work load she was under. Why did no one let her go away and have a true break from the pressure. Well it seems that one person tried, a woman called Robin who was a deeply intimate friend (and possibly a lover) – but she was ultimately sidelined.

Whitney is a powerful yet flawed film. It relied too heavily on badly filmed archival footage and at over two hours in duration it felt way too long. Many of it’s interviewees often come across as self-serving and untrustworthy. This is particularly true of her half-brother Gary Houston.

Despite its flaws, the film does fill in some missing moments of the singer’s life, but it begs the question – why was the most talented singer of the 20th Century, this beautiful but fragile figure let down and betrayed by the people closest to her?

In cinemas 26th July 2018

Whitney

122 Minutes

Starring: Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina Brown, Cissy Houston, Gary Houston
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

 

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