Whitney Houston Grammys
Whitney Houston’s ‘Bodyguard’ soundtrack won the top prize at the Grammys in 1994. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A new documentary about Whitney Houston, that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this week, is revealing some stunning and heartbreaking allegations about the music icon’s early childhood.

In Whitney, Oscar-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald’s film alleges that the Grammy-winning was sexually abused by singer Dee Dee Warwick. Warwick was Houston’s cousin and the sister of legendary singer Dionne Warwick.

Macdonald said his intentions in making the project was to pivot away from Houston’s tragic tabloid ridden narrative and instead focus on her talent and meteoric rise to fame. But after after watching hundreds of hours of private Whitney Houston footage he couldn’t shake off a nagging suspicion.

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“There was something very disturbed about her, because she was never comfortable in her own skin,” Macdonald told Vanity Fair on Wednesday.

“She seemed kind of asexual in a strange way. She was a beautiful woman, but she was never particularly sexy. I’ve seen and done some filming with people who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, and there was just something about her manner that was reminiscent to me of that sort of shrinking—a lack of comfort in her own physicality that felt, maybe that is what it was.

Macdonald was initially cautious about taking his hunch seriously but “shortly after thinking that, someone did tell me off the record about being told by Whitney about being abused, and it being one of the central reasons behind her self-torture. It took awhile for anyone to go on record about it, and eventually the family did.”

Houston’s half-brother Gary Garland, who told Macdonald he had also been sexually abused as a child by Dee Dee, believed Houston had also been molested and agreed to speak on camera.

Gary tells Macdonald, “Being a child—being seven, eight, nine years old—and being molested by a female family member of mine. My mother and father were gone a lot, so we stayed with a lot of different people . . . four, five different families who took care of us.”


Two months after he spoke to Garland, Houston’s assistant Mary Jones, also confirmed the singer had been abused, right before the final edit of documentary was set to be finished.

“I finally managed to persuade Mary Jones, who was Whitney’s longtime assistant and probably knew her in her last years more than anybody, to talk [on-camera],” Macdonald said.

“She talks about what Whitney felt and what effect it had on her. So we changed the whole cut at the very last minute. It was kind of a detective story to get that piece of information, which changed how I felt about Whitney and how I felt about the story.”

Macdonald re-edited the entire film to build to Jone’s emotional revelation.

“[Houston] looked at me and said, ‘Mary, I was molested at a young age too. But it wasn’t by a man—it was a woman,’” recalls Jones in the film.

“She had tears in her eyes. She says, ‘Mommy don’t know the things we went through.’ I said, ‘Have you ever told your mother?’ She says, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, maybe you need to tell her.’ She said, ‘No, my mother would hurt somebody if I told her who it was.’ She just had tears rolling down her face, and I just hugged her. I said, ‘One day when you get the nerve, you need to tell your mother. It will lift the burden off you.’”

The director now believes that while the singer never spoke about her abuse publicly, she did drop clues about it. He cites how in one particular press interview, when she was asked what makes her angry, Houston responds with a sudden burst of rage: “Child abuse makes me angry . . . I hate to see kids . . . it bothers me that children, who are helpless, who depend on adults for security and love, it just bothers me. It makes me angry.”

Houston also refused to leave her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, behind when she went on any of her international tours, and also urged Jones to bring her daughter along with them on trips as well. This hyper vigilance may have been inspired by her own childhood experiences.

“I think she was ashamed,” Jones speculates in the interview. “She used to say, ‘I wonder if I did something to make [Dee Dee] think I wanted her.’ I said, ‘Stop. A predator is a predator is a predator.’ If Cissy had known, she would have done something about it, because Cissy loves her children.’”

Macdonald says Whitney Houston’s mother, Cissy Houston, has been informed about the accusations made in the documentary: “Cissy knows. She was told, and very upset. I think she will watch the film at some stage, but it’s obviously up to her when she wants to do that.”

Pat Houston, Whitney’s former sister-in-law, manager, and estate executor, who makes an appearance in the film, says she’s told Dionne Warwick about the abuse revelation as well.

“She has been informed,” said Pat. “She hasn’t wanted to see the film . . . But very much myself and everyone else, we all don’t want her to suffer by the actions of her family. Any negative feelings toward her would be completely wrong. She had nothing to do with it. She knew nothing about it. We definitely don’t want any repercussions for her.”

Houston’s alleged abuser, Dee Dee Warwick died in 2008, four years before the tragic death of Whitney Houston.

Whitney hits theaters on July 6th.


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