Spoiler alert! The following discusses plot points from the new biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and the real life of Whitney Houston. Stop reading if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want to know.
The scope of Whitney Houston’s life is so immense, it’s no wonder that many moments in “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” are depicted in rapid succession.
The film (in theaters now) was made with the cooperation of Houston’s estate, as well as her mentor, music mogul Clive Davis, imprinting it with a stamp of authenticity (and a bounty of her gorgeous pop songs).
Still, creative license abounds in the most hallowed of biopics, so we sought clarity on several moments that made us say “hmm.” We enlisted an expert to assist: The film’s director Kasi Lemmons, who spent 17 months immersed in the making of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Here’s what Lemmons had to say about key points.
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Did Whitney Houston have an affair with Jermaine Jackson?
Rumors swirled in the mid-’80s when Houston and Jackson recorded the duet “If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful” for Jackson’s 1986 “Precious Moments” album. In the film, Houston and Jackson are seen batting eyes at each other in the recording booth, followed by Houston telling her jealous girlfriend, Robyn Crawford, that she had been intimate with Jackson.
Lemmons confirmed that “there were strong emotions” when the pair recorded together, which eventually led to an affair (Jackson was married at the time). Jackson’s sister, LaToya, also said during a 2012 interview on “The Talk” that her brother had admitted to the relationship.
Did Whitney’s father, John Houston, tell her she had to date men in public?
Houston’s sexuality is addressed early in the film, as she and Crawford become fast friends and low-key romantic partners. But Houston’s father, John, had definitive views about his daughter’s image, especially as her music career ignited.
“We talked to everybody around Whitney and (her father) John was very focused on the brand,” says Lemmons. “We heard from many sources that he was extremely unhappy when news started to break (about Whitney’s sexuality) and that he had threatened Robyn.”
Concerns about Houston’s sexuality seemed “archaic even then,” Lemmons says. “But (John) was very serious about her image. He wanted Whitney to be Barbie.”
Did Whitney miss her father’s funeral because she was strung out on drugs?
In the film, scenes of John Houston’s funeral are intercut with shots of Houston slumped in a chair at home, high on drugs.
While Houston did indeed skip her father’s funeral, Lemmons says it wasn’t necessarily because she was too drugged to attend.
More likely, Houston was still upset about her father suing her for breach of contract some months earlier, even though she forgave him on his deathbed.
But John died in 2003 and Whitney entered rehab in 2004. So her substance abuse struggles were “all around the same time,” Lemmons adds.
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Did Clive Davis have an intervention for Whitney at his house?
It is well-documented that Houston’s mentor made many attempts to steer her towards sobriety, and Davis did bring Houston to his house at some point to administer tough love. “He could tell us, ‘We were sitting over there,'” Lemmons recalls.
Did Whitney receive drugs from dealers who hid it in pens and pretended to be fans asking for her autograph?
The film depicts Houston devising a sly way to procure drugs: by swapping pens with a dealer posing as a fan wanting an autograph. (The drugs were stashed inside the pen.) While Lemmons assumes more than one dealer engaged in such transactions with Houston, she says screenwriter Anthony McCarten has footage of the “fan” speaking about the setup.
“People take credit for the weirdest things,” Lemmons says. “After Whitney died, several people came out and claimed they were her dealer.”
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Did Whitney have a drug transaction in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton the day she died?
Houston, 48, died of an accidental drowning in 2012 in her hotel bathtub hours before Davis’ annual pre-Grammy party at the hotel. Her autopsy found cocaine, Xanax, marijuana and other substances in her system.
The movie shows Houston walking through the hotel lobby the afternoon of her death and encountering the same long-haired autograph-seeker with whom she had swapped pens earlier in the film.
Lemmons says she “has on good authority” that Houston indeed procured drugs the day of her death, but likely did not do it herself. (Cameras in the hotel lobby surely would have captured Houston.)
“Famous people have people to help you with those transactions,” she says.
Did Whitney have a conversation with a hotel bartender hours before her death?
If it seems unlikely that a Houston-sized superstar would be hanging out in a hotel bar during the day and engage in a conversation with a bartender, well, that interaction, sweet as it is, never took place.
In a moving monologue, the bartender reminds Houston of her greatness, recalling her epic 1994 American Music Awards performance (a medley of “I Loves You Porgy,” “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and “I Have Nothing” ) that is faithfully re-created at the end of the film.
But, alas, “that was just a lovely piece of writing,” Lemmons says. “We wanted her to connect with a fan who would have really strong feelings about her. I’m sure she had many of those kinds of encounters.”
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