"she was something I didn't want my sister involved with. It was evil. It was wicked," one of Whitney Houston's brothers says. As he does it, a chill goes up my spine. "I knew she was a lesbian, yes."
He's talking on camera about Robyn Crawford, Whitney's intimate friend, possibly her true love, the woman who was by Whitney's side throughout her rise to mega-stardom, the woman who understood Whitney better than anyone, the woman who made an ultimatum to Whitney at one point: Bobby Brown or me. Whitney was already married at that point. Whitney chose Bobby.
As the film argues, Brown was a jealous husband, and he struggled with feelings of emasculation after The Bodyguard made his wife a global phenomenon. (Still, he acquits himself well in this documentary, pointedly refusing to discuss his late ex-wife's drug use on camera.) But for Houston's queer fans, that other potential path, the road not taken, the hypothetical stability and purpose and happiness that a lesbian relationship with Crawford could have possibly provided, is one of the knife turns of fate in the singer's story.
"She's fluid. She flows," one of Whitney's confidants explains of the singer's sexuality.
As the documentary reveals, fate turned its knife over and over in Houston's life. As most people know, Whitney Houston's cousin was Dionne Warwick. As most people do not know (but as Kevin Macdonald's documentary reveals), Warwick's sister Dee Dee, also a singer, sexually molested Houston from the ages of 7 to 9 (one of Houston's brothers was molested as well), according to family members.
This doesn't excuse the ridiculous sense of lesbian menace that Whitney's brother ascribes to Crawford, but it does contextualize it.
In the course of Whitney 's life, there were, of course, self-inflicted wounds, too. Replacing her professional management team with family members, some of whom had been using drugs since they were kids, was not the best choice. But in Whitney's defense, the boundaries between family and business had always been blurred.
It was her disciplinarian mother, Cissy Houston, also a singer, who is most responsible for engineering Whitney's early successes, or so this film (in which Cissy participates) would have you believe. It's a persuasive argument, complete with Cissy faking an illness just to test Whitney's ability to step up and perform at a moment's notice, and it changes the story I thought I knew.
What everyone in the film agrees on is that Whitney Houston was one of the greatest vocal performers who's ever walked the earth. There is footage you expect to see (like her star turn singing "The Star-Spangled Banner"), and audio that amazes every time (like the vocals-only track to "I Wanna Dance with Somebody"), but the funniest moment of the film is old footage of Cissy Houston, in a private moment with her daughter, dissing Janet Jackson, telling Whitney she's better than that.
Whitney, spurred on by her mother's trash-talking, then goes off on a tear about Paula Abdul, saying repeatedly "Paula Abdul ain't shit" and trashing Abdul for singing off-key on her own records. It's a funny, light moment in the life of a troubled soul, and as comforts go, it's definitely cold. But at least Whitney herself knew she was one of the greats.