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Kasi Lemmons said she “fought” for the inclusion of Whitney Houston’s early relationship with childhood friend and former creative director Robyn Crawford to be featured in the late singer’s biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody.
Whether the film — produced with the backing of Houston’s family and estate as well as music producer Clive Davis — would feature the romance between the duo was a subject of near-continuous speculation leading up to its release. During its premiere, Davis confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that it would “tell you about her sexuality,” later sharing with Extra that the movie would set the record straight and depict that “they did have a teenage, one-year affair.”
“There have been so many articles that have … attempted to trace her addiction to being a frustrated lesbian or never dated a man before Bobby, all of which was totally inaccurate,” he added.
It was a relationship I Wanna Dance With Somebody director Lemmons recently told the Los Angeles Times — in an interview that also features stars Naomi Ackie and Nafessa Williams — she had to sensitively navigate while working with the estate. That meant she did not reach out to Crawford directly and instead relied on accounts from those who knew both women, as well as Crawford’s A Song for You: My Life With Whitney Houston, to depict the “profound and important” connection.
“I wanted to, but I did not,” Lemmons said, telling the outlet she knew Crawford had a difficult relationship with the estate. “Because I was working with the estate, I was careful. People’s feelings had to be considered.”
In her 2019 memoir, Crawford confirmed her relationship with Houston, writing that despite them wanting to be together, “She said we shouldn’t be physical anymore, because it would make our journey even more difficult.”
It was a relationship that goes beyond the framing of a romance, exploring the duo’s teen friendship and eventual professional work in its depiction. It was something the Houston estate had already agreed to include prior to Lemmons’ joining the project, originally helmed by executive producer Stella Meghie, who departed as the director.
But Lemmons says the kiss itself that takes place between the two required further negotiation. “I said, ‘Well, presumably they kissed. We really can surmise that there was a romance there,’” she explained. “I think we all know that at one point it was beyond just friendship.”
“It’s the sweetest kiss. It’s like a first kiss, very romantic,” Lemmons added about the film’s ultimate inclusion of the physical affection between both women. “And I fought for it.”
While Lemmons wanted to fight for that moment in I Wanna Dance With Somebody, the stars who depicted both women — Ackie as Houston, Williams as Crawford — did not want to put a label on what the two had.
“Someone asked me about labels, and I don’t feel comfortable answering that question for either of them because they didn’t put labels on it,” Williams told the L.A. Times. “I think they were soulmates.”
“I think it’s quite interesting that we sometimes have the urge to put labels on everything, even when the people who are involved in the relationship don’t do it themselves,” Ackie added. “That has always been the energy, like there’s no words for the love that we have for each other. And that was a joy to create.”
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