Whitney Houston is one of the most iconic and powerful singers of her generation. It’s no wonder that her early death devastated the world and led to the creation of numerous documentaries and portrayals of her life and career. The latest of these is I Wanna Dance With Somebody, a biopic created in collaboration with the Houston estate. Unlike many of the other films about the late singer, Wanna Dance brings her seldom talked about same-sex relationship to the screen.
This article contains spoilers for I Wanna Dance With Somebody.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody
This new biopic was announced in 2020 with Anthony McCarten, writer for Bohemian Rhapsody, creating the screenplay. Later the same year Naomi Ackie was cast as Houston, with her best-known role up until this point being Jannah in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Alongside her, the popular actor Stanley Tucci was cast to play Clive Davis, Houston’s friend and record producer.
The film follows Houston’s life and career from 1983, when she was singing in her church choir, until her death in 2012. There’s a heavy emphasis on her various significant relationships.
Wanna Dance was released to mixed reviews. Most critics praised Ackie for her performance as Houston, but some felt like the film was just like many other pop star biopics. According to Wanna Dance writer McCarten, however, “This film is a corrective” to the tragic image and portrayal that has been predominant in other productions about Houston. One of the many things that the film seeks to address is Houston’s relationship with her longtime best friend, assistant, and former lover, Robyn Crawford.
The two met in 1980 when they were working as summer camp counselors in New Jersey and quickly became friends. In an old interview, Houston recalled feeling, “I’ve known this person [for what] seems like all my life.” Their relationship turned physical for a period of time, up until the singer got her first record deal.
In her memoir Song For You: My Life with Whitney Houston, Crawford recalled, “She said we shouldn’t be physical anymore because it would make our journey even more difficult. She said if people find out about us, they would use this against us, and back in the ’80s, that’s how it felt.”
Despite this, the pair remained extremely close, even living together for a long period of time. This sparked many rumors about their relationship among their families and throughout Hollywood, but Houston denied that she and Crawford were anything more than friends.
Their romance is portrayed in Wanna Dance, years after Crawford officially confirmed their involvement when they were young women. Of the relationship, Ackie said, “It was really important to me too that we tell her full story. If you’re going to explore this amazing woman, you’ve got to do it all. The thing I loved about her relationship with Robyn is that it’s just the deepest connection I think that Whitney experienced.”
Ackie wasn’t the only one who knew how important this part of the story was. Director Kasi Lemmons said, “the relationship was so significant that I wouldn’t have done the movie if it wasn’t included in the film.” She was also a big advocate for having the two kiss on screen, something that required a little more of a fight, despite the Houston estate’s agreement to have their partnership appear in the film.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody chronicles not only the career of an immensely famous pop singer, but one of the longest – and most important – relationships that she maintained throughout her life.