I have so many thoughts about the Whitney Houston documentary and so much anger about the circumstances of her life. The film revealed major details to the backstory of her life and gave light to the drug addiction that she has been so mercilessly judged for. Midway through the film, there is a scene where she is backstage mid-concert, rushing through hair and makeup between performances, as Bobbi Kristina looks on from the corner, lost and anxious for recognition. You can feel Whitney's inner-conflict and disappointment in herself for not being able to do it all—and not having the tools or time to emulate the unconditional acceptance that she never really experienced as a child, while being groomed for success. Between Whitney and Bobbi, in that moment, Whitney seemed to be the most vulnerable. It was heartbreaking.
Nat King Cole has been quoted as saying: “People don't slip. Time catches up with them.” Whitney’s life was an embodiment of that truth. The documentary features a voice-over of Whitney sharing a recurring dream of her being chased and overpowered. By the end of the film you clearly recognize the parallel, in watching someone who is consistently on the run. Running from herself. Running from her own questions about her identity. Running from the pain of her experiences. Running from the weight of the expectations and entitlement of those she loved the most. And then at a certain point of her life, she gets tired of running and succumbs to the toxicity of those relationships, eventually morphing into the image of the very people who sabotaged her. She self-admittedly became her own worst enemy. It was agonizing to watch the loneliness of her fall, following the loneliness of her ascent to fame. In Whitney’s case, as with many others who have such a distinctly great gifting, she attempted to remedy the separation that accompanied her gifting and success through self-sabotage, and it was frustrating to watch so many people she trusted take advantage of that alienation. I found myself thinking: “If only she had a better team at the foundation…. She could still be here.” Whitney was a master of her craft. She could have easily parlayed her knowledge and strengths into a position as a judge on X-Factor or The Voice. Her intel and experience as a performer was invaluable and priceless. She could be spending her days, cackling with other industry vets, sharing war stories over lunch in Beverly Hills—or posting Instagram stories on vacation from Bali, while prepping for a residency in Vegas this fall.
Whether or not you were a fan, you always knew you would be receiving something of quality during her performances. She was like a vocal Mary Poppins, magically gliding through the consciousness of pop culture. My favorite performance of Whitney’s was during the 1994 Grammy Awards. She performed a medley of songs, which included “I Loves You Porgy” from the musical Porgy and Bess. I remember being spellbound watching her effortlessly juggle the improvisation of the melody with operatic authority. She cradled the lyrics over her vocal runs. She owned her lane. There was no one who could match her. It is still unbelievable how quickly she was discarded by the public after her ill-advised interview with Diane Sawyer. The public's lack of empathy and disgust was beyond comprehension in retrospect. It was hard to relive the turn of events and watch someone who was so highly regarded and revered as a symbol of American patriotism and pride be literally illustrated as a dog, as seen in the Family Guy episode featured in the film. I can’t imagine how that must have affected Whitney, and how the public heckling may have escalated her downfall. I remember the same feeling watching the Amy Winehouse documentary—wondering how anyone could ever recover from that level of shaming.
In the years that have passed since her death, there has been no real celebration of Whitney’s legacy or work. No remembrance or homage of one of the greatest voices of the twentieth century to ever grace the stage worldwide. Just an enduring silence that hints towards an embarrassment and shame steeped in judgment. Looking back on her career, she deserves so much better. It begs the question as to why she has never been forgiven for her perceived shortcomings and the larger question of why there is a need to forgive. She was entrusted with a huge gift that only the most humble and meek of heart could have had the capacity to carry. From my view, I see an A+ person forging through D- circumstances, who did the best they could with what they were given. A rose that grew from New Jersey concrete. My only wish is that the love that she gave to her music could have been reflected back to her while she was here. She was uniquely gifted and beautiful. A one of a kind person and talent that will never again be experienced.
Whitney Elizabeth Houston. We will always love you.