The trailer to the new big-screen biopic of late music superstar Whitney Houston opens ominously enough.
“There were times when I’d look up to God and I’d go, ‘Why is this happening to me?’” Houston says at the top of the nearly two-hour film, “Whitney.”
Her struggles with drugs are documented and, for the first time, it’s revealed that Houston was molested as a child by a female cousin.
“People think it’s so easy, and it’s not,” Houston says in a clip taken from a decades-old interview.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald, the film, which opens in theaters nationwide July 6, covers her turbulent marriage to singer Bobby Brown and her relationship between Houston and the couple’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, who died in 2015 at the age of 22.
Bobbi Kristina’s death eerily resembled her mother’s. Both were found unresponsive in a bathtub after apparent drug overdoses.
Still, it’s what many have called the stunningly candid takes on Houston’s life by family and friends such as music moguls Clive Davis and Antonio “L.A.” Reid, and the revelations of drugs and molestation that have talent agents and therapists talking.
Several of them offered mixed opinions about the decision to tackle Houston’s alleged lesbian affairs, her drug use and the alleged molestation she suffered as a child.
“If the writers want to tell the story in a sense to show that, despite her struggles, she became a legend, then it can be done tastefully,” said Sherese Patton, CEO of SLP Media Relations in Detroit.
The revealing personal struggles are “absolutely appropriate and fine to reveal intensely loaded facts including her being molested as a child, her drug habits and her alleged lesbian affairs as long as it is presented onscreen in good taste,” said Dr. Fran Walfish, a famous Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist who’s a regular expert on CBS’s “The Doctors.”
“These bio-documentary style films can be sensationalized or revealed in an honest and emotionally touching way. Honesty is always the best policy, accuracy is crucial and the truth rules,” said Walfish, author of “The Self-Aware Parent.”
However, the media’s portrayal of celebrities does tend to lean toward the negative, said Chantay Bridges, a coach, speaker and writer.
“What’s not necessary is airing all of anyone’s dirty laundry. Every single person on the face of the earth have things they are proud of and ashamed and we all fall short,” Bridges said. “I think it’s a travesty that regardless of whether the project is good or bad, someone will prosper or benefit at the family’s expense.”
Certainly, Hollywood can make biopics in good taste, as they’ve portrayed drug addiction and personal struggles with great aplomb in such films as “The Dorothy Dandridge Story” and “Lady Sings the Blues,” said Ross Grossman, a psychotherapist and talent agent whose placed actors on such programs as “Blue Bloods,” “Shameless” and “Black-ish.”
“There’s a yearning to find out what brought an artist like Whitney Houston, who gave so much pleasure and entertainment to so many, to an early demise,” Grossman said. “People want to know what was the train of events that led to her downfall. But, it’s important to remember that while the past may provide an explanation, it does not provide an excuse.”
He also noted that filmmakers must tread carefully.
“Molestation is a delicate matter in that it is an awful and often traumatizing experience for children,” Grossman said. “Portraying this in an unflinching manner is difficult. But Hollywood also often takes a classically Freudian viewpoint when it portrays bad things happening to people. Often it tries to make clear-cut associations between past events and current psychological difficulties.”
Actress Leandra Wilkerson said she views the movie as a true tribute to Houston.
“I believe that this movie should have been done a year after her death and the rest of the movies/documentaries should never have been done,” Wilkerson said. “I don’t need to be re-reminded about her drug addiction [or] the lesbian rumors. … A lot of people in Hollywood [are bisexual]. The movie needs to reveal new aspects of Whitney’s life, not the recycled news that I already know about Whitney and her family.”