5 Things We Learned from the New Whitney Houston Biopic, ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’

Recently released on Netflix, a new Whitney Houston biographical drama, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, follows the star’s life and career from humble beginnings to earth-shattering stardom. Houston, depicted by actress Naomi Ackie, appears as we’ve never seen her before, an inspiring, at times troubled, star who captivated hearts and lives on today in the legacy she left behind.

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[RELATED: Whitney Houston Biopic ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ Soundtrack Released]

Here are 5 things we took away from the new Whitney Houston biopic, I Wanna Dance with Somebody.

1. Houston Learned the Fundamentals of Singing from her Mother

Houston, no doubt, came from a powerhouse pedigree, having Dionne Warwick as a first cousin and Aretha Franklin as a godmother, but it was her mother, Cissy Houston, who informed her early singing career.

The film opens with Houston leading a church congregation in song. The choir behind her is being conducted by her mother, portrayed by Law & Order: Special Victims Unit regular Tamara Tunie.

The next scene cuts to the mother and daughter alone in the same church, the former drilling the young singer on foundational techniques. “You have to learn the melody,” she tells Houston who seems more interested in adding her own vocal flair to the hymns. She emphasizes the need for control and enunciation, saying “Great singing comes from three places: the head, the heart, and the gut.”

After being pushed by her mother to the point of annoyance, Houston threatens to quit the choir, but her mother insists she sees her commitment through. “You’re a Houston,” she reminds the young star.

2. From the Beginning, Houston Believed in the Power of a Great Song

Houston was known for putting on big performances. Her voice was powerful and she let it be known in the songs she sang. From the start of her career, she knew exactly the kinds of songs she was meant to sing. No one had to make Whitney Houston, she knew what she was capable of and went for it.

When she signs her recording contract with Arista in the film, seated beside the great record producer Clive Davis—played by Stanley Tucci—the two discuss what she wants to sing. “Great big songs,” she says without hesitation. “The you almost can’t wrap your arms around. Songs that are like climbing a mountain, that’ll stretch me vocally, that I really gotta sing my raggedy ass off the sell.”

When asked if she means “Gospel? Country? Black? White?,” she replies, “All the above. A great song is a great song.”

3. Houston Had a Forbidden Love

Rumors followed Houston throughout her career, and while it is common knowledge that the star was incredibly close with longtime assistant and friend, Robyn Crawford, the extent of that relationship was examined closely in this biopic.

A through line in the film surrounds Houston and Crawford. Their early romantic relationship causes tensions to arise between Houston and her parents, to the point where Houston’s father demands she only is seen in public dating men.

Throughout the film, Crawford is always by Houston’s side even through her wedding to fellow artist Bobby Brown.

4. Houston Was Regularly Criticized Because Her Music Wasn’t “Black Enough”

There is a scene in the film in which Houston has to respond to a radio host saying she’s a sell-out, that her music “isn’t Black enough,” and that she isn’t “a real Black artist.”

“If I’m not a Black artist, what am I?,” she asks the host, adding, “Look, I don’t know how to sing Black, and I don’t know how to sing White either. I know how to sing. Music is not a color to me. It has no boundaries … I sing what I want to sing, be how I want to be, and reach as big an audience as I can.

“That’s just bull,” she continues, firing back at the accusatory host. “And it makes me angry, actually. It’s hateful and uninformed.”

In another scene, the singer is at a red carpet event for the Soul Train Awards and boycotters are wielding signs that read “Whitney ‘Whitey’ Houston” as they shout “Shame on you” at the star. When her name is called among the nominees for Best Music Video during the ceremony, boos arise from the audience.

It was a backlash that made Houston rethink her sound.

A big shift in the biopic comes with the introduction of Houston’s biggest hit, a striking rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Recorded for the 1992 film, The Bodyguard, in which she starred, the song came to her as a suggestion from her co-lead, actor Kevin Costner.

“I don’t feel that they’re allowing you to sing strongly enough in this picture so that we understand why your character is such a huge star,” Davis tells Houston behind the scenes of filming The Bodyguard, sitting her down to show her a song. “The songs have to be great in order for the character to be great.”

Clive tells her her “new best friend,” Kevin, found this, handing her a Walkman to listen to. Through the headphones plays Parton’s song. She immediately likes it, and a goosebump-inducing montage unfolds.

Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

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