The estate of Whitney Houston has officially announced that “Whitney,” an “intimate, definitive account of the superstar’s life and career,” will be released July 6. A powerhouse team of Oscar winners is at the helm of this documentary. Leading the charge is director, Kevin Macdonald, who won an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2000 (“One Day in September”). He earned further acclaim for his 2006 biopic on Ugandan President Idi Amin, “The Last King of Scotland,” for which Forest Whitaker took home the Oscar for Best Actor and his 2012 feature about reggae legend Bob Marley (“Marley”).
For “Whitney,” Macdonald was granted exclusive rights to a vault of unheard music and never-before-seen video footage spanning the entirety of the late singer’s legendary career. Co-producing the film is Simon Chinn, a creative force who has won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards twice. In 2008 he took home the golden statue for “Man on Wire,” which chronicled Philippe Petit’s daring high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Four years later Chinn won again for producing “Searching for Sugarman,” a fascinating thrill ride that follows two South African fans investigating the rumored death of American singer Sixto Rodriguez.
“Sugarman” was the first of three music-centered films to win the Oscar for Best Documentary over the past six years. In 2013 “20 Feet From Stardom” took the top prize for giving a behind-the-scenes look at some of the music industry’s most sought after backup singers. The 2015 winner, “Amy,” chronicled the rise and fall of another troubled superstar, Amy Winehouse.
Houston was never nominated for an Oscar, but she did sing three ballads that received bids for Best Original Song throughout her career. In 1992, two massive hits from her big screen debut, “The Bodyguard” were nominated. “I Have Nothing” (David Foster and Linda Thompson) and “Run to You” (Jud Friedman and Allan Rich) were performed at the ceremony by her friend, Natalie Cole, due to Houston being nine months pregnant with her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, at the time of the telecast. “A Whole New World” (Alan Menken and Tim Rice) from Disney’s animated film “Aladdin” took home the prize that year. Six years later Houston teamed up with rival diva, Mariah Carey, for “When You Believe,” an inspirational song from the Dreamworks animated film “The Prince of Egypt.” The duo performed that song, which won the Oscar for its writer, Stephen Schwartz, at the 1999 ceremony.
Although Houston’s public persona was tarnished throughout her career, her respect and admiration within the film and music industry held firm. Fresh off winning the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for “Dances With Wolves,” Kevin Costner convinced Houston to take the plunge into feature films after telling her she was his first and only choice to co-star with him in “The Bodyguard.” Despite Houston’s reluctance, the film was a blockbuster hit and its music generated the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time and won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1994. In his eulogy at Houston’s funeral in 2012, Costner recalled how the insecure star questioned “Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?” He said if he could speak to her again, he would tell her “You weren’t just pretty. You were as beautiful as a woman could be. And people didn’t just like you, Whitney. They loved you.”
Despite the massive success of “The Bodyguard,” Houston would go on to star in just three more major motion pictures. “Waiting to Exhale,” a film adapted from author Terry McMillan’s best-selling novel, co-starred Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon, and was released in 1995. It focused on the troubled love lives of four African-American women in their 30’s. In 1996 Houston became the highest paid black actress in history (at that time) when she banked $10 million to co-star with Denzel Washington in Penny Marshall’s remake of “The Preacher’s Wife.” Her final film, “Sparkle,” was a labor of love for the singer, who had spent nearly 15 years trying to get it produced. It was originally supposed to star the late singer Aaliyah, but following her tragic death in 2001 it was put on hold. Over a decade later, Houston finally got her chance to see it through with Jordin Sparks in the lead role. Houston sadly passed away after filming wrapped and never did see the final cut before it was released in August 2012.
If Macdonald succeeds in making “Whitney” the compelling, emotional and revealing documentary he promises, it may be the early frontrunner at next year’s Oscars. In recent years, the scademy has repeatedly shown their love for documentaries about musicians. That, in addition to Houston’s connections to so many members within the academy, is impossible to ignore. The most difficult task will be for “Whitney” to impress the documentary branch enough to receive a nomination. If that happens, it could be a slam dunk to take the top prize in 2019.