For as beautiful and breathtaking Whitney Houston was as an artist, she was also just as damaged and lost.
Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald’s depiction of Houston in her self-titled documentary isn’t the first time her story was told on screen, but it definitely provided additional color to the artist’s already multi-faceted life.
Through stories told by Houston’s immediate and extended family, and those who’ve worked for her, viewers openly witness the icon’s secrets and unhealed wounds stemming from her parents’ divorce, alleged sexual fluidity, being bullied at school and her alleged sexual abuse as a child.
Houston’s former longtime assistant, Mary Jones, stated that Nippy aka Houston was molested as a child by her cousin and soul singer Dionne Warwick’s sister, Dee Dee Warwick.
This was one of several newly revealed details about the singer’s life, alongside additional commentary on her sexuality and introduction to drugs.
But interestingly enough, there was one perspective that was subtly weaved inside of the framework of the documentary, Whitney Houston’s battle with self-acceptance within the black community.
Throughout her complex life, Houston found both safety and nonacceptance in the staples of black society: Family, church, and community.
Whitney Houston broke more music industry records than any other female singer in history. With over 200 million album sales worldwide, she was the only artist to chart seven consecutive U.S. No. 1 singles. She also starred in several blockbuster movies before her brilliant career gave way to erratic behavior, scandals and death at age 48.
The church, along with her mother Cissy Houston, cultivated a space for her singing passion to both grow and excel. But, as she grew up in Newark, Houston was often bullied for being a lightskin girl in a city that was “predominately darkskin”. According to her mother, Nippy was sent to private school later on as a kid to avoid being further bullied.
In the documentary, additional examples showed that this internal conflict continued well into her adult life. On March 30, 1988, at the second annual Soul Train Music Awards, Whitney Houston was booed while being nominated for Best Music Video and Best R&B Urban Contemporary Single by a Female, respectively. Although this can be viewed as a multi-layered situation, she was reportedly viewed by some as “too white” for a black artist in the late ’80s. Her commentary in the film shows that this situation bothered her personally and probably internally too.
Experiences like this and unattended trauma appeared to have weighed Houston down overtime, to the point of a non-existing identity. She knew who she was as a star, but as Nippy and an individual, that was lost as the years went by.
Whitney is a raw and emotional film that humanized the famous singer and her flaws. Houston is heard at one point in the doc saying that she was always running from a giant, but ultimately the very giant that she was running from all along was herself.
This movie beautifully depicted both the darkness and the light that shined from the very singer that we all still love.