Whitney (2018 film)
Though Kevin Macdonald’s critically lauded biographical documentary Whitney is touted as an estate-sanctioned release, the Houston family matriarch still isn’t happy with its contents — particularly a shocking scene which alleges the late pop superstar and her brother, Gary Garland, were molested by her cousin, singer Dee Dee Warwick, while she babysat them as children. Now, following the film’s debut at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and recent theatrical release, Cissy Houston — Whitney’s 84-year-old mother and Dee Dee’s aunt — has issued a statement to PEOPLE slamming the project’s depiction of her daughter’s life.
“Although the film is marketed as a Houston Family approved/endorsed project, neither my son, Michael, Dionne nor I knew of the allegations of abuse, the direction the film would take, until two days before the [premiere] screening at Cannes… We cannot, however, overstate the shock and horror we feel and the difficulty we have believing that my niece Dee Dee Warwick (Dionne’s sister) molested two of my three children,” the joint statement released Wednesday by Cissy and soul singer Dionne Warwick reads. “I’ve been told — as justification for the invasive theme of this film — that Whitney was a public person and therefore the public has a right to know any and everything about her. I say, NO, she was a famous person … IF she was molested I do not believe she would have wanted it to be revealed for the first time to thousands, maybe millions of people in a film.”
Cissy’s statement goes on to claim Dee Dee, who died in 2008, “never babysat” for her family. She also says Mary Jones, Houston’s longtime assistant who, along with Garland, confirms in the film Houston told her of Dee Dee’s alleged behavior, “chose to betray Whitney’s confidence by publicizing rumors and hearsay,” and that the idea “the idea that [Dee Dee] would have molested [her] children is overwhelming and for us unfathomable.”
The accusations in question come near the end of Macdonald’s documentary after the Oscar-winning filmmaker delves deep into Whitney’s demons — at times with commentary from Cissy and other members of Whitney’s family and platonic personal circle, including ex-husband Bobby Brown and estate executor and sister-in-law Pat Houston. Those who knew her best speak candidly about Whitney’s struggles with drugs, motherhood, and the trappings of fame that ultimately contributed to her untimely death in 2012.
“We cannot reconcile the Public’s need to know about Whitney’s life as justification for invasion of her privacy or the charge against Dee Dee, a charge which neither Whitney nor Dee Dee is here to deny, refute or affirm,” the statement continues. “Neither I, Dionne, nor my son Michael who was very close to his sister, and in the film is VERY candid about their drug use, has ever heard these allegations; we have never heard anything remotely connected to the crimes charged against Dee Dee in the film. How can that be fair to my daughter, to Dee Dee, or to our family?”
Cissy and Dionne said in the statement that they make “no attempt to minimize the pain, the trauma and perhaps lifelong damage to the psyche of abuse victims,” and do not “intend to defend, condone or excuse the crime of molestation,” but rather accuse the film of distinguishing “itself from the other films about [Whitney] by spreading rumor, innuendo and hearsay; leaving questions to which [she’ll] never have the answers” before stressing that, despite what the film says about Houston’s “mistakes” and her decision to “live her life in the grip of drugs,” the singer was “not a victim.”
“After people have seen the film they will draw their own conclusions and we are not trying to change that,” they conclude. “We just want people to know there is another side. While the filmmakers certainly had the legal right to make this film, I wonder at the moral right.”
Read the full statement and more from PEOPLE’s cover story here. Whitney is now playing in theaters nationwide.