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‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ Highlights Whitney Houston’s Same-Sex Relationship

Photo Credit: yassi / TriStar Pictures / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: yassi / TriStar Pictures / MovieStillsDB

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 Rhapsodycreating 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.

Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in a black jacket with bright red lipstick.
Publicity still of Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance With Somebody, 2022. (Photo Credit: yassi/ TriStar Pictures/ MovieStillsDB)

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.

Real relationship

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.

Robyn Crawford in a white jacket and Whitney Houston in an oversized top, sit side by side at a dinner table.
(Left) Robyn Crawford and Whitney Houston sit together at a banquet table, c. 1988. (Photo Credit: Dave Hogan/ Getty Images)

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.

On-screen romance

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.”

Nafessa Williams as Robyn Crawford and Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in casual clothes lying on the floor together.
Publicity still of Nafessa Williams as Robyn Crawford and Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance With Somebody, 2022. (Photo Credit: yassi / TriStar Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

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.

More from us: Where is Freddie Mercury’s Final Resting Place? Only One Person Knows

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.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.