‘Whitney. Can I Be Me’ Explores the Artist’s Struggles With White Entertainment Industry Standards

By Sameer Rao Aug 25, 2017

The most glamorous and sordid aspects of Whitney Houston’s life—her powerhouse vocal talent, her status among history’s best-selling artists, her struggles with substance dependency, her abusive and turbulent relationship with Bobby Brown—became public knowledge well before her 2012 death from accidental drowning. “Whitney. Can I Be Me,” which premieres tonight (August 25) on Showtime, goes beyond those aspects to explore the personal and professional crises that affected her on her rise to global superstardom. 

As evidenced in the above trailer for the feature documentary, those crises included the ways that the record industry intentionally tried to mask her Blackness so she could appeal to White audiences.

“Her music was deliberately pop,” an unidentified man says over archival footage of her interviews and performances. “Anything that was ‘too Black-sounding’ was sent back to the studio.” 

“Whitney insisted they cross her back over to Black music,” continues another unidentified man’s voiceover. “Her favorite saying is, ‘Can I be me?’”

Showtime’s YouTube video description notes that directors Nick Broomfield (“Biggie and Tupac”) and Rudi Dolezal (“Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story”) frame the documentary around a broader Catch-22 that’s familiar to many Black artists: “Even though she had made millions of dollars and was recognized as having one of the greatest voices of all time, she still couldn’t do what she wanted, either professionally or in her personal life.”

“Whitney. Can I Be Me” premieres in full on Showtime tonight at 9 p.m. EDT.

(H/t E!)