Whitney: Can I Be Me?

By Jackie Raphael

3.5 stars

There is no denying that Whitney Houston is an icon with a voice like no other. A documentary about her life was inevitable. Stylistically, Whitney: Can I Be Me? offers a good mix of modern interviews, older interviews and backstage footage, providing a fresh look at her life. While this unauthorised film does share aspects of her story in detail, it would have been good to hear more about her career and not just focus on her drugs. The documentary celebrates Houston's career to some extent, but centres heavily on her fall from grace. This has been a common approach from writer/director Nick Broomfield, who created a similarly skewed documentary about Kurt Cobain. Broomfield has looked at Houston's struggles in life and essentially framed the death of her career as being the end of her 1999 tour. 

The documentary also narrowed on the questions around Houston’s sexuality and her close relationship with Robyn Crawford. Without any evidence, the film suggests they were more than friends. It is mentioned at the end that Crawford is officially gay, leaving the suggestion that Houston was either bi-sexual or homosexual. It was also suggested by centering on the tension between Crawford and Houston’s husband Bobby Brown. It feels tacky and disrespectful to suggest Houston was publicly untrue about her sexuality given she cannot clarify anything now. The film implies a heterosexual person cannot be friends with a homosexual person, which I also find offensive. Had they provided some form of evidence then it could have been more accepting. 

Obviously, Houston's tragic story ends with her untimely death in 2012 at the age of 48. Broomfield suggests it was due to her heartbreak over her father suing her before he died and Brown dating after their divorce. While Houston had been taking drugs since she was young, it unfortunately consumed her life. In contrast, to the recent Heath Ledger documentary that left audiences inspired, this film left me feeling sad. Still, it is worth seeing for Houston fans. Apparently, Kevin Macdonald will be releasing an authorised film in the future, which will be interesting to see and compare.