The Role of a Lifetime
It was recently announced that America’s Next Top Model contestant-turned-actress Yaya DaCosta will play Whitney Houston in the upcoming biopic on the singer to be aired on the Lifetime network. The film, which has first-time director Angela Bassett at its helm, will cover Houston’s relationship with her former husband, Bobby Brown, a coupling that many found surprising when they wed back in 1992. The 15-year relationship became reliable fodder for the tabloids and later, social media, with part of the escapades of the couple towards the end of their union being televised for all to see in the greatest reality show to star a celebrity, Being Bobby Brown (Bravo).
Since Houston’s unfortunate and untimely death in February 2012, there has been considerable speculation about who would play her in the inevitable biopic of her life. It seemed as if Brandy had been spending some time putting out audition tapes since her hero passed away. And, of course, the other usual Hollywood suspects were named. DaCosta was never on that list. Comparatively, she’s an unknown. And although DaCosta has done a decent job in the bit parts I’ve seen her play in several movies that I can’t even remember, I wasn’t overwhelmed with glee when I heard the news.
Then again, despite the cache of a name like Bassett, I’m not overwhelmed about this project. Face it, Lifetime built its brand on movies centering on women with A. a vendetta against an unfaithful husband; B. crushes on men with secrets and dangerous pasts; C. amnesia; D. lonely hearts of gold; E. their own (violent) “issues”; F. any combination of the above. Indeed, Lifetime has attempted to “rebrand” itself of late, with a variety of original movies aimed at black women, including a truth stretching flick on Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King and the Negro Steel Magnolias.
Yet none of the latest crop of Lifetime films makes me confident about the Houston biopic. At best, these new movies have been thin, overly sentimental, and at times campy. I don’t expect Houston to get the film she deserves. Not on Lifetime, at least.
Let’s pause for a moment, while I let it sink in that I have just admitted to watching Lifetime movies.
Whitney Houston deserves a treatment that requires me to spend $13 at a movie theater. She needs the Ray treatment. The What’s Love Got to do With It treatment. (The James Brown treatment?) Unfortunately, it seems that, the aforementioned Tina Turner picture notwithstanding, Hollywood is hell-bent on Tyler Perry, slavery movies, and biopics of black men. So, if the Houston film is going to be relegated to the made-for-cable group, can HBO please stand up? Lifetime might not be Vh1 (Hello, TLC movie), but let’s just say that I have more faith in this Bessie Smith biopic than I do in any magic happening between Yaya and Ms. Bassett.
No shade, though. Seriously. It’s simply that the Lifetime affiliation tips a rather poor hand. It’s the cover of a book I have no desire to read. And unless Lifetime and co. goes far beyond what its past suggests it’s capable of, we’ll be pining for a “real” Houston film starring Brandy or somebody that does Houston justice. And that’s what I want, really–a film that pays homage to The Voice. A film that gives Houston all of the reverence that she deserves.