When grammy award winning singer Whitney Houston tragically died at the age of 48 in 2012, the whole world wept. But according to a new documentary about the singer’s life from award-winning filmmaker Nick Broomfield, all of this could have been avoided if Houston had just been allowed to be herself.
Broomfield teamed up with director Rudi Dolezal to make “Can I Be Me” a project he said he was engrossed in for two years.
Through archive footage of the singer and interviews with people who were close to her, Broomfield tells the story of Whitney Houston’s love of life, her struggle with fame at a young age, and the identity struggle between being ‘America’s Princess’ and street girl from Newark.
Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1963 amid the American Civil Rights movement, and began her career singing in her gospel choir at church. She moved on to perform at venues and nightclubs with her mother, quickly catching the attention music industry executives.
While talking to Reuters during a promotion of his movie, Broomfield explained how she was the first major black female crossover artist, and how Arista Records boss Clive Davis carefully moulded her to appeal to a mass audience. “Whitney was so young. She didn’t know what she was going into, she was so beautiful and you can see she is just having fun—she has no idea what she was getting into,” he said.
Houston hails from gospel and soul music royalty, she is the cousin of Dionne Warwick and the daughter of Cissy Houston, who sang backup for Aretha Franklin—her godmother. While Franklin and Warwick also worked with Davis, Broomfield said they were already established, saying, “There’s no way he could mould them in the same way that he moulded Whitney.”
He then goes on to talk about Whitney’s relationship with her husband, Bobby Brown, and how the public perception of marital conflict was far away from the reality.
On the issue of her decline from the public eye and her career, he said, “If we feel we have to apologize for who we are and we’re constantly being told it’s not ok, it’s very hard to beat, you know, you kind of retreat into a private space where you can be who you are.”
Houston, who battled substance abuse, drowned in a bathtub in a Beverly Hills hotel at age 48. Authorities said cocaine abuse and heart disease contributed to Houston’s Feb. 11, 2012 death.
Concluding, Broomfield said that despite her troubled life, the thing that surprised him the most about Houston while making the film was how fun he thought she was. “The thing that moved me the most was that she was obviously such fun and she had a kind of amazing comedic timing and loved just you know, she’s normally like laughing and goofing around,”he said.
‘Can I Be Me’ is out in the U.K. on June 16, 2017.