Exploring the rise and tragic downfall of one of music’s greatest singers, Whitney Houston’s life, career and death are examined in detailed in the unauthorized documentary Whitney “Can I Be Me”, that premiered last month at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Beginning in Germany during the height of Whitney Houston’s final, major world tour, My Love Is Your Love, it is here where rumors of drug use began to circulate. Her relationship with her ex-husband Bobby Brown, her complicated relationship with her mother Cissy, the toll Whitney’s career had on her relationship with her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, as well as an implied sexual relationship with Whitney’s former personal assistant Robyn Crawford, are all discussed in exceptional detail. The documentary looks at her life growing up in Newark, New Jersey, revealing that America’s African-American princess/girl next door grew up in the ‘hood before the family relocated to East Orange, New Jersey and began abusing drugs as a teen. When she was discovered by legendary music executive Clive Davis, it was agreed that America wouldn’t accept Whitney if some details of her life were made public. Instead, she was groomed to be “acceptable” to white America, which led to boos by a Black audience when Whitney accepted an award at the 1989 Soul Train Awards.
This also led, according to the documentary, to Whitney becoming involved with the then current bad boy of R&B, Bobby Brown in order to be accepted by the Black community. Can I Be Me does a fair job of showing the trials and tribulations of their rocky relationship but it also shows the genuine love the two had for one another. And while the 90’s saw Whitney becoming the biggest female artist in the world, possibly in history, propelled by her powerful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner during the 1991 Superbowl, and her multi-platinum selling cover of “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard soundtrack, the 2000’s shows Whitney deteriorating, literally, in front of the world. The moment most people can agree when something definitely wasn’t right with Whitney was during the tribute to Michael Jackson in September, 2001 where Whitney comes out on stage looking skeletal.
The documentary focuses on Whitney’s drug use but never over indulges in it for exploitation sakes, and her sudden death in February 2012. It’s a fair balance of original interviews with friends, musicians, family (though Bobby Brown, Cissy Houston, Clive Davis and other influential people in her life are not interviewed), using archival footage that shows us the Whitney we all thought knew, with footage and commentary of the real Whitney Houston, a great artist with demons she was unable to defeat.
READ OTHER TRIBECA FILM REVIEW:
- Clive Davis The Soundtrack To Our Lives