By Maya Palit
A new documentary titled Can I Be Me about the legendary singer Whitney Houston has its premiere at the Tribeca film festival in New York today, and will soon be released world-wide.
The documentary looks at Houston’s whirldwind career, turbulent marriage, incredible onstage presence, drug addiction, early death at 48, and her lifelong attempts to negotiate with a domineering mother and Arista, her oppressive record company.
Through a series of interviews with stylists, bodyguards, back-up singers, and previous footage shot for a documentary on one of Houston’s tours that was never actually made, the film focusses on her enormous success, and the talent that led her to being known colloquially as ‘the Voice’.
But it also closely examines the racism of the music industry in the ’80s, its insistence that an artist couldn’t be too ‘black-sounding’, and its attempts to market her as an unequivocal ‘pop princess’ and nothing more. Apparently music that sounded too much like a black artist were sent back to the studio, and Houston’s face was ‘lightened’ by her record company for certain publicity shots.
Another film about Houston is in the works too and set for a Cannes release this May. This one is being directed by Kevin McDonald and produced by Altitude Films which also produced Amy, the controversial film that documented singer Amy Winehouse’s career and life. (It was a phenomenal hit with fans of the artist, although it also attracted some — somewhat uncalled for and moralistic — criticism about it being ‘tragedy porn’ for its frank depiction of Winehouse’s drug addiction.) But with two new films on the horizon, both promising to do justice to Houston’s tumultuous career, roots, and personal life, it will be interesting to see which one pulls it off better.