Australian Council on Children and the Media

Whitney: Can I Be Me

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Not recommended for children under 14 due to adult themes including substance abuse and sexual references. Also, lacks interest for younger viewers. Suitable for children aged 15 and over.

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Whitney: Can I Be Me
  • a review of Whitney: Can I Be Me completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 20 June 2017.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 15 years due to adult themes including substance abuse and sexual references. Also, lacks interest for younger viewers.
Children 15 years and over Suitable for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Whitney: Can I Be Me
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Coarse Language
Length 105 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Whitney: Can I Be Me? is a documentary about the life of singer and superstar Whitney Houston. The film details her entire career from the beginning, following her life story, through to her death. The film contains interviews with previous colleagues, family and friends, as well as voice overs by Whitney herself from interview footage. The central question that the film explores is whether, despite her fame and fortune, Whitney ever felt truly able to be herself.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Identity, fame, relationships and friendship, substance use, parenthood.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There are very limited references to violence within the film, including:

  • One of the interviewees describes that Bobby and Robyn ‘had some physical altercations’, and goes on to state that ‘Bobby wasn’t always the winner’.
  • There is very brief footage shown from the film The Bodyguard, which Whitney starred in, showing Kevin Costner’s character being shot.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Details are given of Whitney’s death, which involved an overdose of drugs. Interviewees describe that it occurred after she became re-addicted to cocaine, and her personal assistant states in an interview that she found Whitney in the bathroom tub. Footage is also shown from the funeral.
  • At the end of the film, text states ‘Bobbi Kristina also died at age 22 after her own battle with drugs’.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Apart from the above mentioned scenes there is nothing in the film that would scare children aged five to eight.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Apart from the above mentioned scenes there is nothing in the film that would scare children over the age of eight.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Apart from the above mentioned scenes there is nothing in the film that would scare children over the age of thirteen.

Product placement

None of concern.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references, including:

  • In an overseas interview Whitney did, a man speaking another language states (shown in subtitles) ‘I want to fuck her’. The other interviewer quickly attempts to move on from the inappropriate comment.
  • The film contains discussion of rumours regarding Whitney’s sexuality, and questions regarding whether she was a lesbian (as a result of her relationship with Robyn). There are newspaper headlines included such as ‘Lesbian affair exposed!’
  • There are interview discussions stating that Bobby Brown was a ‘womaniser’ – Whitney responds to this by saying ‘boys will be boys’ and that he is now happily committed to their marriage. There are references to Bobby having cheated multiple times within the relationship also.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is limited sexual activity, including:

  • There is discussion of her romantic relationship with singer Bobby Brown, and some footage of them dancing together. There is also footage of them sharing several brief kisses after her stage performances.

Use of substances

There is considerable use of substances shown in the film, including:

  • There are many references within the film to Whitney’s alcohol and drug use. Her friends, colleagues and family all discuss that she died of an overdose. They speak about the concerns they had for her, how she ‘didn’t realise she had a problem’ and that it became ‘no longer recreation, but more out of necessity’. Whitney’s hair stylist describes at one point that she informed Whitney she was worried she was ‘killing herself and was going to die’. There are also snapshots shown from a report written by Whitney’s bodyguard detailing his concerns that she was using marijuana, cocaine, and that drugs were ‘concealed with genitalia’ at times.
  • There are photographs shown of Whitney’s house and bathroom after she overdosed and passed away. They include cocaine and a ‘crack pipe’ (which is labelled as such). The image displays drug paraphernalia all around the bathroom.
  • There are references to Whitney working with a drug and alcohol counsellor (and interviews with this counsellor), and also attending rehab.
  • There is discussion of Whitney using drugs when she was younger, with people saying that ‘everybody did it’ and that ‘her brothers gave them to her’.
  • There are photographs of Whitney holding a cigarette, and footage of her holding a glass of wine in her hand.
  • ‘Beer’ and ‘weed’ are words that Whitney jokingly uses to get her group of backstage people to smile, during a photograph session.
  • There are references to Whitney’s daughter, Bobbi Kristina, dying of an overdose herself at the age of 22.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in the film, including:

  • ‘Ass’
  • ‘Hell yes’
  • ‘Fuck/fucking’

In a nutshell

Whitney: Can I Be Me? is a documentary which explores the personal and career-based challenges faced by musical icon Whitney Houston. The film presents the ongoing pressures of stardom, and the manner in which Whitney was encouraged to compromise her own desires in favour of those of others. It conveys the heartbreaking message that it was not her substance use that ultimately led to her death, but rather, the myriad of disappointments, abuse from others, and public criticism that contributed to her overdose. At the same time, the film conveys the strength and resilience Whitney had throughout her life journey, and the remarkable contribution she made to the world of music as a result of her talents. Due to lack of interest and adult themes this film is not recommended for children under 15 years of age.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • The importance of attempting to stay true to oneself in the face of the influence of others.
  • The impact of feeling pressured to be ‘perfect’, and the need to acknowledge one’s human faults and limitations.
  • The importance of relationships offering a place of safety and unconditional acceptance.
  • The notion that money and fame don’t make people happy, but that people need to be happy with and within themselves.
  • The benefit of putting in effort to learn and hone one’s skills.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • There are discussions of racial and sexual discrimination, and the consequences this had in terms of Whitney’s emotional wellbeing. The film explores what it was like for her to feel pressured to renounce her African American roots and own sexuality, and to become an ‘acceptable’ pop icon ‘for White America’.
  • The way that fame and celebrity is viewed within society, and the manner in which famous people are often seen as not having the right to privacy or respect.
  • The nature and consequences of substance use, and the broad-reaching impact this can have not only on the individual utilising substances, but also others within their life.
  • Questions related to marital issues, infidelity and parenting choices.

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