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Whitney Houston and her daughter remembered: new documentary explores the star's rise and tragic fall

by Cornelius Washington

Whitney Houston and Bobbi Kristina Brown
Whitney Houston and Bobbi Kristina Brown  

Do we really need yet another Whitney Houston documentary? Do we need yet another look at the tragedy, fame, dysfunction, beauty, distortions, glamour, self-destruction, love, betrayals, rise, fall, redemption and final end that befell both mother and daughter? Do we need yet another opportunity to envy, marvel at, judge and satisfy ourselves with the inevitably of drug use and the suffocation of fame? The short answer is...yes.

Produced by Entertainment One and Creature Films for the Lifetime television network and scheduled to premiere on February 6, 2021 on Lifetime, Whitney & Bobbi Kristina: Didn't We Almost Have It All? delves into more of the personal, human side of the legendary music icon, her interpersonal relationships and the consequences of poor choices.

The film artfully avoids rehashing the well-trod tales of Houston's rise to fame, choosing instead to focus on her abilities to handle the spotlight once she'd achieved it, the accompanying scrutiny of every aspect of her life and the public denial of her humanity by a tabloid press that seemed hell-bent on exploiting the divisions within the African-American community between those who idolized her and demonized her. This unwittingly promulgated the kinds of unwarranted criticism that tends to follow every popular black artist who refuses to "stay in her place" and record music other than jazz, gospel, blues or screeching soul music (See Diana Ross, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, etc.), but, in years to follow, become a benchmark of African-American excellence, opening doors for future artists.

Instead of focusing solely on the media's purposeful misconceptions of Houston's supposedly "opposites attract" relationship with "bad boy of R&B" singer Bobby Brown, the film's participants (including Whitney's goddaughter, Bobby's sister, etc.) relate how truly similar the two were in background, temperament and hunger for love and interpersonal acceptance from one of the few people in the world who could actually understand their personal and professional circumstances, crises, joys, etc., and the decisions required to maintain a stellar career. That only grew in scope upon the release of the 1992 film, The Bodyguard and its accompanying soundtrack, which became the greatest-selling of all time.

Revealed for perhaps the first time are miscarriages suffered in silence by Houston, one of which occurred during the making of the film, signaling a personal resilience and sense of duty to her colleagues rarely seen in today's unprofessional celeb climate. Throughout these painful moments, Brown is said to have never left his wife's side. In the Black Baptist church, there is an oft-repeated Psalm. 30. "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." On March 4, 1993, Bobbi Kristina Brown was born.

One relationship that is never mentioned by any of Houston's or Brown's friends, relatives, etc., is her sexual, professional and personal relationship with former assistant, the openly lesbian Robin Carter.

The film spends less than five minutes discussing the undoubtedly complex interpersonal issues that brought the two women together, despite intense public pressure that ultimately, drove them apart, signaling the ever-present denial of bisexuality in the African-American community. While this topic was delved into by documentarian Rudi Dolezal in his previous Houston documentaries, Whitney Close-Up and Can I Be Me?, it should be noted (and lamented) that he is the only person in this documentary who actually mentions Houston's bisexuality.

The rest of the film examines Houston's role as a working mother, and its divided energies.

Unfortunately, the behavior that Houston chose to model for the daughter whom she cherished may have been based upon her unresolved issues related to her adolescent sexual abuse, issues she shared with Tina Brown, Bobby's sister, with whom she later used drugs.

Laurie Starks, Houston's drug counselor, describes her attempts to detox Houston, with Bobbi Kristina in tow. Others can debate whether that was a good choice, as the film observes without judging.

As Houston's decline and untimely death are detailed, the film transitions to Bobbi Kristina's subsequent mental breakdown, seemingly inevitable capitulation to her own drug addiction and death, following a six month-long coma in hospice (later officially found to be due to unnatural, but, undetermined causes) amid glamorous surroundings and people vying for her attention (and money), including apparently violent partner Nick Gordon, who was later found civilly responsible for Bobbi Kristina's death, before dying at age 30, of an accidental heroin overdose.

Didn't We Almost Have It All succeeds where many Whitney Houston documentaries fail: presenting the humanity of two women who were denied the opportunity to be loved for being themselves by a world that wanted them to be anything but.

This Black History Month, celebrate Houston's greatness and-always-embrace your authenticity.

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