The anticipation for Lifetime biopics has become more about expecting the worst, and by those measures the Whitney movie wasn't so bad. The most important question about it, though, is whether they got her story relatively right.
Part of it. Since Angela Bassett was on board (this was her directorial debut), there was no chance that Whitney would be as definitively lousy as the network's Aaliyah movie. There was also, unfortunately, no chance that the crack/cocaine storyline would be explored in depth. Whitney instead zeroed in on Houston's early career and love life with Bobby Brown, from their meeting to their marriage and their bitter downfall, while glossing over the drug use, treating it more as a side note. It gave us an awards-show-montage version of a life that looked much more whirlwind from the outside.
Houston's drug abuse is as much of an undeniable truth as her legacy. It's the greatest tragedy of her life and death. "Crack is wack" is one of the loopiest statements she's ever made, and her brother Michael confessed his regrets to Oprah Winfrey about introducing her to drugs in the '80s. A woman as exceptionally gifted and troubled as that would be better explored under a good, bad and ugly scope, but that should be obvious. I would never expect Lifetime, nor Bassett as a close friend of Houston's, to take that critical leap.
Both YaYa DaCosta (as Whitney) and Arlen Escarpeta (Bobby) were surprisingly impressive with their acting—Deborah Cox also killed it with her vocal fill-ins—but it wasn't enough to make up for the holes. We did get to see what attracted Whitney and Bobby to each other, some of their relationship struggle and why they loved each other, although any one scene from Being Bobby Brown is really all the proof you need. In the movie, cocaine is referenced in a birthday party scene at Houston's house during which she offers Brown a tour. You see someone slip her a bag of something white. She later offers Brown some and he declines, saying, "I worked too hard to get where I am." This almost angelic depiction of him was clearly off-base, as many people have noted, given our knowledge of their shared drug use.
While Aaliyah: Princess of R&B directly dove into R. Kelly's pedophilia—albeit, mishandling it in the process—Whitney did the opposite, all but avoiding her past to the detriment of a more impactful story about an apparent goody-goody who got caught up. Lifetime is building a reputation for its biopics, and while it's good on the one hand that they've branded a centerpiece that automatically draws viewers, it's unfortunate that it's at the cost of black superstar stories being rushed and underdeveloped.
One thing that Whitney, which was more boring than bad, had in common with the Aaliyah biopic is the family's disapproval. Houston's family said in a statement: "I question the morality of the making of this because of the lack of experience knowing Whitney's life. Never would Whitney allow her story to be told by an inexperienced team and how naive of anyone to think otherwise, unless you're caught up in illusions of grandeur that you can just do anything and people will accept it. This made for TV movie is certainly not a trailer to Whitney's life story."
Image via Lifetime
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