She had more consecutive number ones than The Beatles and became recognised as having one of the greatest voice of all time, yet the lasting memory of Whitney Houston is one of demise into drug addiction, which resulted in her untimely death in 2012… until now, with the release of Nick Broomfield‘s much anticipated documentary in cinemas – WHITNEY ‘Can I Be Me’.

In collaboration with legendary fimmaker, Rudi Dolezal, the acclaimed director (Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Kurt & Courtney) spent two years researching and editing the new film about one of the greatest singers of all time. Whitney Houston was the epitome of superstar, groomed by her American Soul and Gospel singing mother, Cissy Houston, and marketed by her label to be the perfectly-pop ‘American Princess’. Ultimately, Whitney Houston became the most awarded female artist ever.

It was this pop success, however, that led to her being booed at the Soul Train Music Awards in 1988, with one audience member reportedly shouting “White-ey, White-ey!” The black community felt she had sold out for commercial gain it seemed, to which Houston defiantly exclaimed in Essence magazine, “What’s black? I’ve been trying to figure this out since I’ve been in the business. I don’t know how to sing black—and I don’t know how to sing white, either. I know how to sing. Music is not a color to me. It’s an art.”

Her famous saying was ‘Can I be me?’ And perhaps it was her meeting with Bobby Brown at those same music awards, that helped her go some way towards reaching the creative freedom that escaped her. The unlikely pairing had more in common than the reputations that went before them. ‘Houston was from the hood and Brown was street’, and although he was seen as the bad boy, Brown was apparently a drinker, and not a drug user when they met. According to him, the first time he saw Houston doing cocaine was just before they were married in 1992. He’d stopped by to see his bride-to-be before they wed and she was hunched over doing cocaine in her wedding dress.

More than anything, WHITNEY ‘Can I Be Me‘ brings to light the one woman who seemed to be Houston’s rock, and appeared to be the one keeping her from wrecklessly destroying herself. Robyn Crawford was Houston’s teenage friend, who became her assistant, and later her Creative Director. But, “Bobby Brown and Robyn Crawford were like fire and ice. They hated each other,” said Whitney’s former bodyguard, David Roberts, in the film. Apparently things came to a head after the 1999 My Love Is Your Love world tour, and Crawford left for good.

Brown independently claims that it was Cissy who disapproved of Crawford – who is openly gay and now married with children – and any notion of a sexual relationship between the long-time friends, “I really feel that if Robyn was accepted into Whitney’s life, Whitney would still be alive today,” said Brown in his memoir, Every Little Step. “She didn’t have close friends with her anymore.” Although the film portrays a relationship that got in the way. “Robyn and Whitney were like twins,” said Kevin Ammons, who did Houston’s security. “They were inseparable. They had a bond and Bobby Brown could never remove Robyn. He wanted to be the man in the relationship.”

“I don’t think she was gay, I think she was bisexual,” said Ellin Lavar, Houston’s stylist. “Robyn provided a safe place for her… in that Whitney found safety and solace.”

WHITNEY ‘Can I Be Me’ is in cinemas now.

Words: Sarah Hardy
Photo: David Corio/Redferns