UPDATED with reaction from filmmaker: Director Benjamin Alfonsi has responded to a statement from the estate of Whitney Houston throwing shade on his upcoming documentary project about Whitney Houston. In a statement Deadline published earlier today, the estate said it did not authorize the film and would not cooperate on the project, which is based on a book by photographer Bette Marshall, who got to know Houston when the singer was in her teens.
“Bette’s memories of Whitney, and the stunning photos she took between 1982 and 1986, are a beautiful chapter in the history of Whitney Houston. My film is the complete opposite of the exploitative film treatments in recent years that have may have sought to tarnish Whitney’s memory. I did not seek nor did I require any permissions from the Whitney Houston estate to tell this story of a photographer and her one-time muse, who became one of the biggest stars of all time.”
PREVIOUS UPDATE with statement from Whitney Houston’s estate: A documentary production underway on Whitney Houston is drawing fire from the singer’s estate. The estate reached out to Deadline Thursday, a day after we broke the news on Whitney Houston in Focus, a film set for release in 2022 based on the work of photographer Bette Marshall, who documented a young Houston just before she rocketed to fame.
“The Estate of Whitney E. Houston is not involved in any way with this documentary and no one came to us for permission,” the estate writes. “We are saddened to learn that Bette Marshall who had a relationship with Whitney and her family over 35 years ago (and not since) did not reach out to the family at all. We will not be cooperating in any way with this, nor will we support or approve of any music licensing to the project.”
The statement added, “The amount of unauthorized documentaries is very upsetting and exploitative.”
Previously, exclusive published December 1 at 1:13pm: Production is underway on a documentary about Whitney Houston, which will explore the iconic singer before she became an international superstar.
Whitney Houston In Focus, directed and produced by Benjamin Alfonsi, is based on an upcoming book on Houston by photographer Bette Marshall, who met the future sensation when Houston was an unknown 18-year-old, before she signed her record deal with Clive Davis and Arista Records.
Audra McDonald, the Emmy, Grammy and six-time Tony-winning actress and singer, will narrate the documentary and serve as executive producer.
“Whitney Houston is an artist I worshipped from the moment I first heard her sing. Her voice was simply miraculous and her artistry was perfection,” McDonald said. “We all witnessed her superstardom, and I’m honored to help tell this part of Whitney’s story, before it all began.”
Marshall will feature in the documentary, described as a “cinematic photo story of a photographer and her young muse.” Marshall, whose photographic subjects have included Queen Elizabeth II and Nelson Mandela, gained a unique perspective on Houston as she went from New Jersey teenager to one of the top-selling recording artists in history.
“[Marshall] was given unprecedented access by the Houston family to document Whitney’s rise to fame,” according to a release. “Over the subsequent years, Marshall’s camera followed the young singer to early auditions and recording sessions, and even to church.”
Whitney Houston in Focus is being produced by Cinergistik, formerly Metabook Entertainment. Ken Siman and Christian Alfonsi will serve as co-executive producers on the film.
Marshall’s book, titled Young Whitney, will be released in February 2022, commemorating the 10-year anniversary of Houston’s shocking death on February 11, 2012. Houston was found unconscious in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, just hours before she was due to appear at Davis’s annual pre-Grammy party.
The book, Davis said, “captures all the beauty, promise and love of life that was indeed Whitney when I first met her.” The Grammy Museum will initially be the exclusive seller of the hardback edition of Young Whitney.
The tentative release date for the documentary is early 2022. Distribution plans will be revealed at a later date. Several documentaries have been made about Houston following her death, including the 2017 film Whitney: Can I Be Me, directed by Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal. But Whitney Houston in Focus is the first that will “reveal rare photos and personal stories of an up-and-coming Whitney Houston.”
In his statement to Deadline on Thursday, Alfonsi said, “I look forward to sharing this story with the world, especially with those who still hold Whitney close to their hearts.”
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