On Friday, August 25th, the documentary, Whitney: Can I Be Me?, aired on Showtime. I got the opportunity to go to the special screening of this documentary during the Black Harvest Film Festival, but I was so moved by it, I had to watch it again.
The documentary takes an inside look into the life of Whitney Houston, but from a deeper perspective. The documentary talks about aspects of Whitney’s life that aren't often talked about, even during her career or after her passing.
In the documentary, Whitney’s upbringing was discussed; the neighborhood she was raised in, the discipline her mother gave her and her brothers, and how she started singing in the church. As the documentary went on, it went into deeper topics about Whitney’s family dynamic. The documentary only mentioned Whitney's brother during the early part of her life and did mention that they did drugs together (no mention of what type of drugs were used), but the documentary did take a look into Whitney's relationship with her father. Whitney was a daddy's girl and her financial manager, but during the last year's of his life, Whitney's father sued for missing out on concerts and causing him to miss payments due to her drug use and mental health. In an interview, Whitney said that her father was being greedy due to his illness. This wouldn't be the only family member scrutinized in this film; through interviews with close friends and family members, many described Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston, as a strict woman who credits her teachings to Whitney's success and vocal ability. It is also discussed in the documentary that Cissy Houston didn't approve of most of Whitney's relationships and was homophobic, with a clip of her interview with Oprah showed her telling Oprah if Whitney was bisexual she would have had an issue with it.
On the note of sexuality, the documentary also touched on Whitney's bisexual rumors. There was pressure on Whitney to be the "perfect girl", which meant hiding her alleged sexuality and distancing herself from certain people. One of those people included a close friend from high school, Robyn Crawford. This was a friend Whitney confide in when she bullied and insecure during her younger years; which seems reasonable, since most teenagers who are shy and reserved usually gravitate towards people who are confident, older, or who are the first to come to their defense. Robyn would soon be apart of Whitney's management team and often go toe-to-toe with Whitney's husband, Bobby Brown, over Whitney. Bobby Brown was someone Whitney's mother didn't approve and who others questioned. From my perspective, it seemed as though both Whitney and Bobby needed each other and were genuinely happy they found each other. Bobby, known as the "bad boy of R&B", was able to joke around and be joyful around Whitney, especially since he was typecast by the media and the general public. Whitney, who was seen as the good girl, was able to be herself around Bobby. It seemed as though, around Bobby, Whitney didn't have to be perfect.
Part of being perfect was being the girl that every man wanted. In order to keep that image going, Whitney had to keep her friendship with Rhonda a secret. People who were in business with Whitney and people in the industry speculated that Whitney was bisexual, but as one interviewee expressed if the team "focused on her drug problem instead of her sexuality" then maybe Whitney would have been alive today.
It was expected by many viewers that Whitney's drug problems were to be focused on. What the documentary did focus on was her reasons for drug use and the emotional toll it took on her. Many interviewees leaked her drug use to her emotional struggles and believed that Bobby Brown, Whitney's husband and father of her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, was enabling her drug use as well as his. Towards the end of her documentary, close friends and Whitney's counselor talked about how Whitney knew she was in trouble (even recalling a time during Michael Jackson's 30 Anniversary television concert). Whitney did go to rehab to become a better person and mother, but would often relapse, leading to her demise.
As one interviewee said, "Whitney died of a broken heart." I couldn't agree more.
Whitney: Can I Be Me? is a lesson on life. It is a lesson on how as humans we cannot be pigeon-holed. After watching this documentary, I feel the same way about Whitney Houston as I do about Amy Winehouse; I believe Whitney needed more people in her corner and she needed people who would give her tough love. I think if Whitney didn't grow up in a strict household and worked in a strict environment, she would have been happier. If I could go back in time, and talk to Whitney or give her advice, I would tell her to live in her truth. After watching Whitney: Can I Be Me, the biggest lesson I took away from it was to never push your happiness and sense of self to the side for any one, no matter what...even if it is our own family members.
Since viewing the documentary, I always think about so many possibilities Whitney could of have as a person and as an artist. Whitney will always be known as "The Voice"; she set a high standard in the music industry and her impact is undeniable. If someone was by her side, looking for the best for her, she could still alive, she could be happy.
Can I be me? Yes, yes I can. I will from now on since Whitney wasn't allowed to be.