Though Kevin Macdonald’s documentary Whitney was commissioned and technically authorized by Whitney Houston’s estate (whose executor is the late singer’s sister-in-law, Pat Houston), the film is nonetheless the subject of a thorough and at times scathing statement released by Whitney’s mother, Cissy Houston.
“While the filmmakers certainly had the legal right to make this film, I wonder at the moral right,” Cissy wrote in a statement. In an interview last month, Macdonald told Jezebel he had final cut of the film, and it seems he exercised his editorial freedom at the risk of facing Houston’s family wrath.
The primary subject of the statement Cissy delivered to People on behalf of herself and her niece Dionne Warwick is the bombshell allegation that Whitney was molested by her cousin, Dee Dee Warwick (sister of Dionne and niece of Cissy). The claim is made in the film’s final quarter by Whitney’s former assistant Mary Jones (Pat Houston is shown confirming that she’s heard the claim as well). “If Cissy would have known it was happening, she would have done something about it, because Cissy loves her children,” Jones says in the film. Cissy is not seen responding to the claim—she’s only briefly in the movie’s early scenes. Additionally, Macdonald told Jezebel that the idea that Whitney was sexually abused “made a lot of things make sense to me.”
Equally outraged and skeptical, Cissy wrote in her statement that she and Dionne cannot “overstate the shock and horror we feel and the difficulty we have believing that my niece Dee Dee Warwick (Dionne’s sister) molested two of my three children.” (The other child who was allegedly molested, per the doc and by his own admission, was Whitney’s half-brother Gary Houston.) Cissy continued: “IF she was molested I do not believe she would have wanted it to be revealed for the first time to thousands, maybe millions of people in a film.” She also said of Mary Jones, “If she was my daughter’s ‘close confidante’ it would seem she chose to betray Whitney’s confidence by publicizing rumors and hearsay.”
“In all the years I traveled Dee Dee, who was 21 years older than Whitney, NEVER BABYSAT for them,” Cissy stated, referring to the time she spent on the road as a singer during Whitney’s childhood. She also refutes the claim made by her son Gary in the film that there were “four or five families” who took care of Cissy’s children during this time: “When I was away they did not stay with four or five different families; they stayed at home where their longtime babysitter, Phyllis, or my dear friend Bae or their father took care of them.”
Cissy further accused Whitney of treating “my family’s aspirations with the heavy handedness of people who are viewing an African American family through a lens lacking in cultural sensibilities,” denying that she named Whitney after a “character in a ‘WHITE SITCOM’ or because we were striving to be considered middle class as alleged in the film.” The film alleges that Whitney was named after Whitney Blake, who starred on the ’60s sitcom Hazel, and a family friend refers to the Houstons as the “Cosbys of Dodd Street.”
Cissy also takes issue with the film’s depiction of Whitney herself. “I am heartbroken that despite all she accomplished fans and haters alike are left with the notion that she lived her life as a victim,” Cissy stated. “She faced challenges in her life, exacerbated by fame, divorce and family issues but she was not a victim.”
Jezebel has reached out to the film’s reps for a comment from Macdonald and will update this post if we receive it.
Update: On Wednesday, Good Morning America ran an interview with Gary Houston, filmed before the release of Whitney, in which he said, “I was eight or nine years old, and I was being fondled from time to time. It was a situation I didn’t understand. I knew it was abnormal.”