Celebrity culture is dangerous. It’s an infectious disease that prays on the dreamers and the desperate. Art is beautiful, glorious, and wonderful, but the fame and fortune that is attached to it becomes imbued in sadness and sorrow. Whilst there are those who can handle the mental strain of this world, many are blighted with addiction and mental illness, culminating from difficult working schedules, a lack of privacy in their lives, and complete manipulation of people around them.
When we lose a talent or a star, it echoes around us and draws us to their story. Documentaries such as Amy take us deeper into the circle of harm these talents have around them. For Nick Broomfield’s Whitney: Can I Be Me, the So Emotional singer is explored through her family, friends, and a dangerous relationship.
Nick Broomfield is a celebrated documenter whose works including delving in deep into Kurt Cobain with Kurt & Courtney, capturing Biggie & Tupac on the big screen, and sex centred documentaries such as Fetishes and Sex My British Job. It seemed like a natural fit that he would bring the essence of Whitney and everything she was on a cinematic screen and the product shows it.
In typical documentary fashion, Whitney Can I Be Me revolves around the life and career of the popular singer. Born in 1963, daughter of Gospel singer Sissy and cousin to Dionne Warwick, Whitney was thrust into the limelight at a very early age. This documents her life leading to her death, dealing with substance abuse and a turbulent relationship with singer Bobby Brown.
Many have called the documentary exploitative. True, any subject that deals with death and drug abuse is bound to have a manipulative feel surrounding it. With Whitney, it is these topics Broomfield presents a stark and honest look at her life. Similarly, it was her support network that kept her hooked on drugs, refusing to address the problem because keeping her in the limelight will keep them in money. Through interviews with her family, old conversations with the star, and behind the scenes footage of an unfinished film, you can see how drugs impacted her and how she simply wasn’t taken care off. Whilst yes, in part, that’s the responsibility of Houston too, people enabled her or turned a blind eye when she was spiraling out of control.
A topic that may feel more exploitative than most is the fact that Houston had a strong relationship with a confidant named Robyn Crawford. It is implied heavily throughout the film that this was a sexual and loving partnership. Herein lies the problem, Crawford refused to be on the film and there is no confirmation account from Houston. Though close friends do say that their relationship excited and there was a clash between Crawford and Houston’s husband Bobby Brown, the gossiping style presents what should have been an exploration of Houston’s sexuality wastes the legacy of the singer. It feels as though it were a tease. A tell-all documentary that will uncover and how this was handled feels unexplored in the film, a tidbit rather than what could’ve been a great focus.
There are strong elements to Whitney: Can I Be Me but there is never any fruition to them. “People just think ‘drug addict,'” laments a colleague about Houston’s legacy and, ultimately, Broomfield’s work does not change that.
Whitney: Can I Be Me is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!