By Rosalyn L. Forch
American Black Film Festival (ABFF) Founder Jeff Friday’s vision of showcasing quality film and television content by people of African descent was realized again this year as the celebrated film festival hosted its 22nd anniversary in Miami Beach.
A host of films, documentaries, web series and other creative projects were front and center at this year’s festival including a spotlight screening of Oscar award winning director, Kevin MacDonald’s soon to premiere documentary on the life and musical journey of Whitney Houston. Simply titled “Whitney”, the documentary, which is far from simple, gave ABFF festival goers a look at the layered and complicated life of the New Jersey born singer.
As an admirer of the vocal talents of one of the greatest voices to ever record music, the legendary, Whitney Houston, I was captivated by the intimate look at the making and un-making of a singer many considered an international treasure.
So many fans, including myself, were mesmerized by the exceptional talent, the beauty and the Hollywoood glitz and glamorous image of this amazing singer, it was easy to forget that Whitney Elizabeth Houston was a real person with her own real life issues and struggles just like everybody else.
The biopic is a must-see because you will learn some things about this iconic singer that you did not know. This film is an authentic in-depth account of the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of Whitney Houston. It renders the audience more intimate access into the personal life of “Nippy” through the one-on-one interviews with her family members, closest friends and music industry colleagues who loved her and knew her the best. MacDonald’s film was made with the support of the Houston Estate.
We saw the beautiful pop superstar as the epitome of class, dignity and musical excellence – all of the endearing qualities that her mother, Cissy Houston, taught her well. Whitney Houston emerged in the mid 80’s when mainstream popular music was being dominated by bands and singing groups. She brought heart and soul to historical ballads like “The Greatest Love of All” and melodic catchy tunes like “You Give Good Love.” She took solid songwriting and breathed life into them giving them emotional depth, stellar vocal range and a fresh versatility. Cissy Houston, one of the most requested backup singers in music history, having worked with everyone from Elvis Presley to Aretha Franklin) said, “Three things make a singer: Abs, chest and head – heart, mind and guts.” Whitney had mastered all three. Cissy was a loving, but strict stage mom who steered young Whitney’s career.
The one-on-one conversations with Whitney’s family and friends, answers all of your questions about Whitney such as who was Robyn Crawford and what was the nature of their relationship? How did Whitney start using drugs? What was the real issue that she faced in her marriage to Bobby Brown?
MacDonald does an excellent job of showcasing Whitney’s exceptional talent which is why she became a global phenomenon And in the same time span, he reflects on the devastating media portrayal of her descent from the greatest height of success to Whitney’s shocking death at age 48 in the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel. This comes directly after a tumultuous, 14 year marriage to R&B singer Bobby Brown, years of battling with a severe drug addiction and finally an embarrassing comeback tour from which it was evidently clear to everyone that she had lost her magnificent gift and was not physically prepared for. MacDonald proves how the love and adoration of the people of the world can be extremely fickle.
When Whitney’s struggle with drugs went public, she became the object of ridicule and comedy routines. She also became prime prey for the tabloids. This documentary does not water down the negative events of Whitney’s life. Instead it attempts to give the audience a more realistic and balanced examination of the creative journey and life of Whitney Houston. The overall tone of the documentary is positive with much respect for Whitney’s incredible talent and musical achievements, and of empathy for the broken person behind the veil of global success. MacDonald helps you to understand and to connect with the humanity of great artists. To some Whitney Houston may be remembered as a fallen star but to true music enthusiasts everywhere, she will always be one of the greatest female vocalists of all time.
The documentary will be released in theaters on July 6.
Check out EM Reporter Rosalyn Forch on-the-spot interviews with audience members to capture their responses to the screening below: