3 Stars - Troubling
Whitney and her mother Cissy both believed she was chosen by God and given a gift. Raised in the church where she quickly understood that this God loved music, the affirmation of her worth and the direction of her life was blessed. However, at the same time the influence of her father John Russell with his backroom dealings and her brothers’ drug use created a conflictual and morally ambiguous alternative. Adding to that her mother’s thwarted ambition and projecting her dreams onto Whitney left her without an anchor. Thus when she was introduced to both fame and addiction as a teenager, the path Whitney walked is an altogether too familiar one. One we’ve seen with Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe among many others.
In this documentary directed by Kevin Macdonald we share the experiences of victory and defeat, of love and abuse, as we walk together to the inevitable conclusion. Skillfully weaving images of the unrest of the 60’s, the war in Vietnam, the Gulf War and everything in between, Macdonald allows us to place her journey within the context of our own. For those of us who were adults during her career the images are both reminders as well as warnings of present day decisions and struggles.
Although Whitney is well-known we won’t spoil the various revelations provided in the film except to note that when all the puzzle pieces are in view the picture of her life makes sense. The betrayal of trusted people - both as a child and as an adult, the life-taking parasitical actions of family and friends, the sexual confusion from abuse, the addictive power of drugs and the isolation of fame are all pieces that allow us to see clearly the strength with which Whitney faced it all.
As a Christian the desire of Whitney’s final days was that she could clean up her life to see Jesus. This longing to know the one who chose and gifted her is understandable. What is sad is that she did not seek to walk that journey with her Lord long before those final days. No one will ever know the life she could have lived, but we’ve all sorrowed over the loss of this great talent in our generation.
- It has been said that Bobby Brown was the cause for her addiction. But this biography clearly shows that it was the drug use of her family as they were raised in “the hood” that caused her to choose Bobby as her life’s partner. If you had been a family member of Whitney’s what would you have said and done?
- Once Whitney hit her highest level as an artist, both on the charts and on the screen, her life seemed to spiral out of control. Why do you think that so often happens?
- Beginning her life in church we don’t see this continuing beyond her early teen years. We can understand why, in part, when we are told her mother had an affair with the minister and her own sexual abuse caused her to leave home at eighteen and move in with a woman. The sins of the family and that of church leaders often cause irreparable harm. What do you do with both?