Whitney Houston doc 'Can I Be Me' sheds light on rumored relationship with Robyn Crawford

"Can I be me?" That's the question Whitney Houston apparently posed to close friends and confidantes throughout her all-too-short life. It's something you could imagine a star of The Real Housewives of Atlanta saying: Can I be me? Can I be real? Can I be honest? On the surface, it reads like an easy excuse for inappropriate behavior.

The new Showtime documentary Whitney. "Can I Be Me," now playing the Tribeca Film Festival, proves this question to be anything but a shallow catchphrase, however. If anything, it was a young woman's cry for help as she battled drug addiction and a deep conflict with her own identity. As directed by Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal, this documentary answers — albeit in somewhat haphazard fashion — the late singer's persistent question with a resounding and heartbreaking "no." No, Houston could not be herself. But if she had been able to, perhaps she'd still be alive.

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Whitney. "Can I Be Me" is something of a mixed bag, thanks to its unconventional direction. Most of the concert footage in the film comes from Dolezal's incomplete documentary about Houston's 1999 world tour. This forms the backbone of the film, as it constantly flashes back and forth between the tour and historical information about Houston's life.

It's stunning to watch the singer at such a pivotal moment in her life, when her connection with husband Bobby Brown became more destructive and she lost touch with her longtime closest ally, Robyn Crawford. It is with Crawford that Broomfield's intention most clearly lies: He takes Brown's claim that Crawford and Houston were lovers and runs with it, portraying Houston as a queer woman trapped in a time and family that rejected anything besides heterosexuality.

See photos of Whitney Houston:

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Whitney Houston through the years
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Whitney Houston through the years
Singer Whitney Houston photographed in February 1982 when she was a senior in high school (her first session with a professional photographer). (Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, Whitney Houston, and Cissy Houston posing for a group photo, San Francisco, California, 1980. (Photo by Clarence Gatson/Gado/Getty Images)
Singer Whitney Houston photographed in February 1982 when she was a senior in high school (her first session with a professional photographer). (Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - 1984: Pop singer Whitney Houston performing in 1984 in New York, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - 1985: (L-R) American singer Whitney Houston with President of Arista Records Clive Davis at an event to celebrate Whitney's debut album 'Whitney Houston' receiving a multi-platinum sales award in 1985 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images)
American singer Whitney Houston (1963 - 2012) in concert, circa 1986. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 1986: Singer Whitney Houston at Grammy Awards in February 1986 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
BOSTON - JULY 29: Whitney Houston in concert on July 29, 1986, on Boston Common. (Photo by Keith Jenkins/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Whitney Houston and Cissy Houston (Photo by Larry Busacca/WireImage)
American singer Whitney Houston (1963 - 2012), circa 1987. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 1987: Singer Whitney Houston performs at the Assembly Hall at the University Of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Champaign, Illinois in NOVEMBER 1987. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 25: Singer Whitney Houston, mother Cissy Houston and half-brother Gary Garland attend the 15th annual American Music Awards on January 25, 1988 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
FRANCE - MAY 18: Whitney Houston Performs In Paris Bercy On May 18th, 1988 In Paris,France (Photo by Frederic REGLAIN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - FEBRUARY 25: Singer Whitney Houston and mother Cissy Houston attend the Frank Bruno vs. Mike Tyson Heavyweight Boxing Match on February 25, 1989 at the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 15: Singer Whitney Houston and comedian/actor Eddie Murphy attend the United Negro College Fund's 10th Annual 'Lou Rawls Parade of Stars' Telethon Kick-Off Party on November 15, 1989 at L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - MAY 30: Singer Whitney Houston attends the 21st Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Awards Dinner on May 30, 1990 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Whitney Houston (Photo by Larry Busacca/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Singer Whitney Houston, guest host Jay Leno on December 11, 1990 (Photo by Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - 1991: Singer and actress Whitney Houston sings the National Anthem at the 1991 Tampa, Florida, Superbowl XXV. Houston's rendition of the National Anthem was particularly inspiring due to the fact that Superbowl XXV (25) was held as the first Gulf War began.(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
TINLEY PARK, IL - JUNE 1991: Singer Whitney Houston performs at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park, Illinois in JUNE 1991. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
PROVIDENCE - JULY 17: Whitney Houston in concert on July 17, 1991. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)
American singer Whitney Houston (1963 - 2012) watches a World Cup soccer match, 1994. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Whitney Houston (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
American singer and actress Whitney Houston (1963 - 2012) stars with Denzel Washington in the film 'The Preacher's Wife', 1996. (Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)
Whitney Houston performs on stage in 1996. (Photo by Phil Dent/Redferns)
Whitney Houston, Sängerin, Auftritt, Mikrophon, Promis, Prominente, Prominenter, (Photo by Peter Bischoff/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 12: Whitney Houston is joined by her husband, singer Bobby Brown, at ceremonies in East Orange, N.J., where the Franklin School was renamed the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE -JULY 6: Whitney Houston performing at Paris Bercy concert hall on June 6, 1998 in Paris, France. (Photo by Alain BENAINOUS/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - NOVEMBER 30: Arista Records president Clive Davis and singer Whitney Houston attend amfAR's First Annual Season of Hope Awards to Honor Clive Davis, Tom Hanks and Barbara Walters on November 30, 1998 at the World Financial Center in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 16: BRIT AWARDS, LONDON ARENA Photo of Whitney HOUSTON, Whitney Houston performing on stage (Photo by JMEnternational/Redferns)
Whitney Houston and Mary J. Blige perform at VH1 Divas Conert at Beacon Theater. (Photo By: Richard Corkery/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)
Bobby Brown & Whitney Houston (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Whitney Houston (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
Whitney Houston (Photo by Kevin Kane/WireImage)
Whitney Houston and Mary J. Blige perform on the 'VH1 Divas Las Vegas', a concert to benefit the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, 5/23/02. Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 8: Musician Whitney Houston performs live for an NBC show December 8, 2002 at Lincoln Center in New York City. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - MAY 22: Singers Whitney Houston and husband Bobby Brown attend the VH1 Divas Duets post concert party to benefit the VH1 Save the Music Foundation held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 22, 2003 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
JERUSALEM - MAY 27: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (R) welcomes singer Whitney Houston (L) and her husband/singer, Bobby Brown (C), at the prime minister's residence May 27, 2003 in Jerusalem, Israel. Houston is on a private tour of Israel. (Photo by Quique Kierszenbaum/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV ? SEPTEMBER 15: Singer Whitney Houston is seen performing on stage during the 2004 World Music Awards at the Thomas and Mack Center on September 15, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 26: Singer-actress Whitney Houston onstage during the taping of '25 Strong: The BET Silver Anniversary Celebration' at The Shrine auditorium in Los Angeles, California. The event highlighted 25 years of programming on Black Entertainment Television. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
Usher, Clive Davis and Whitney Houston (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage)
US singer Whitney Houston performs on May 24 , 2008 in Rabat during the closing concert in the Mawazine 7th festival held in Rabat. AFP PHOTO/ABDELHAK SENNA (Photo credit should read ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Whitney Houston performs at the 2009 GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons honoring Clive Davis at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 7, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Singer Whitney Houston onstage at the 51st Annual GRAMMY Awards held at the Staples Center on February 8, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 01: Diane Sawyer, Whitney Houston and Robin Roberts perform on ABC's 'Good Morning America' on September 1, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 22: Singer Whitney Houston accepts the Winner of International - Favorite Artist Award onstage at the 2009 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 22, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
MOSCOW - DECEMBER 9: Singer Whitney Houston performs on stage at Olympisky Sports Complex on December 9, 2009 in Moscow, Russia. Moscow is the first city in her world-wide 2009-2010 tour. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 24: Whitney Houston performs on stage at Acer Arena on February 24, 2010 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Whitney Houston and daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown arrive at the Clive Davis and The Recording Acedemy's Annual Pre-Grammy Gala held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 12, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)
Singer Whitney Houston performs at the 2011 Clive Davis Pre–Grammy Gala and Salute to Industry Icons Honoring David Geffen at the Beverly Hilton. (Photo by Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Whitney Houston and Kelly Price share the stage at the Kelly Price & Friends Unplugged: For The Love Of R&B GRAMMY Party at Tru Hollywood on February 9, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic)
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It's really quite remarkable to watch the film drag the Houston/Crawford affair out of the tabloids and into this canonical story of Houston's life. Many of the interviews with Houston's closest associates all but rubber stamp Houston and Crawford's romance as being true. (Interestingly, before the film's world premiere at Tribeca, Broomfield told the crowd there had been some legal issues threatening the film as of less than three hours before its premiere.)

Suddenly, Houston's story becomes not just about a singer besieged by too many outside influences and a painful addiction, but about a woman who simply was not allowed to be herself.

Source: Arsenalfilm/YouTube

The film blames several culprits for Houston hiding her truth, including Brown, record producers and, using an especially damning bit of footage from a 2013 Oprah Winfrey interview, Houston's mother, Cissy Houston.(In short, Winfrey asks Cissy if she would have disapproved of her daughter being gay, and the answer is a painfully firm "yes.") The movie makes absolutely no bones about how much this affected Houston. On several occasions, interview subjects say Houston died of "a broken heart."

Ultimately, there are too many gaps in Whitney. "Can I Be Me" that prevent it from being a great documentary. Most frustratingly, the film practically sprints through the 2000s, a time that was of particular difficulty for Houston. She battled her drug addiction more openly than before, appeared on the reality TV show Being Bobby Brown and went through a public, messy divorce from Brown. Anything between her divorce in 2007 and her death in 2012 goes completely undiscussed.

But, credit to Broomfield and Dolezal, their combined footage does cohere into a compelling theory about Houston. She wasn't a woman haunted just by drugs, although those were obviously a significant factor. She was trapped within herself. It makes her tragic passing all the more painful.

Mic has ongoing Tribeca Film Festival coverage. Follow our main Tribeca hub.

See photos of Bobby Brown:
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Bobby Brown
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Bobby Brown
Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown and their daughter Bobbi Kristina (left) at the Downtown Disney Theatre in Anaheim, California (Photo by Lee Celano/WireImage)
BEING BOBBY BROWN -- Pictured: (back row l-r) Pops Brown, Whitney Houston, Tommy Brown (front row l-r) Bobby Brown Jr., La'princia Brown, Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina Brown (Photo by F. Scott Schafer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Singer Bobby Brown, singer Whitney Houston and daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown arrive from Los Angeles on June 9, 1993 at JFK Airport in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Singer Bobby Brown, singer Whitney Houston and daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown arrive from New York City on June 18, 1995 at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Singer Bobby Brown and daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown arrive from Los Angeles on June 9, 1993 at JFK International Airport in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Singer Bobby Brown and daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown attend the Eighth Annual Soul Train Music Awards on March 15, 1994 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Singer Bobby Brown, singer Whitney Houston and daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown arrive from New York City on June 18, 1995 at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Singer Whitney Houston, singer Bobby Brown and daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown attend the Fourth Annual International Achievement in Arts Awards on October 11, 1998 at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Singer Bobby Brown, daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown and mother-in-law singer Cissy Houston attend the Eighth Annual Soul Train Music Awards on March 15, 1994 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Bobby Brown, Minnie Mouse, daughter Bobbi Kristina, Whitney Houston and Mickey Mouse (Photo by Lee Celano/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Singer Whitney Houston, singer Bobby Brown and daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown attend the Fourth Annual International Achievement in Arts Awards on October 11, 1998 at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Singer Whitney Houston, singer Bobby Brown and daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown attend the Fourth Annual International Achievement in Arts Awards on October 11, 1998 at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 18: Bobby Brown performs on SiriusXM's 'Up Close & Personal' hosted by Cayman Kelly (not pictured) at SiriusXM Studio on December 18, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 21: Bobby Brown arrives at Sean 'Diddy' Combs Exclusive Birthday Celebration on November 21, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/WireImage)
LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 06: Recording artist Bobby Brown performs onstage during the 2015 Soul Train Music Awards at the Orleans Arena on November 6, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/BET/Getty Images for BET)
LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 06: Recording artist Bobby Brown performs onstage during the 2015 Soul Train Music Awards at the Orleans Arena on November 6, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Paras Griffin/BET/Getty Images for BET)
LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 06: Recording artist Bobby Brown performs onstage during the 2015 Soul Train Music Awards at the Orleans Arena on November 6, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/BET/Getty Images for BET)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Bobby Brown attends the 2015 Circle Of Sisters Expo at Jacob Javitz Center on October 18, 2015, in New York City. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
WESTFIELD, NJ - AUGUST 03: Pat Houston and her daughter Rayah Houston leave the funeral service for Bobbi Kristina Brown at the Whigham Funeral Home on August 3, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, was reportedly found unconscious in her bathtub on January 31, 2015 and passed away on July 26, 2015 at the age of 22 after an extended hospital stay. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - AUGUST 03: Singer Dionne Warwick attends a funeral service for Bobbi Kristina Brown at the Whigham Funeral Home on August 3, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, was reportedly found unconscious in her bathtub on January 31, 2015 and passed away on July 26, 2015 at the age of 22 after an extended hospital stay. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JULY 04: Recording artist Bobby Brown performs during the Affordable Old School Concert Series at Wolf Creek Amphitheater on July 4, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Bobby Brown speaks onstage during BET Networks 2016 Upfront at Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 20, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/BET/Getty Images for BET Networks)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 11: Bobby Brown attends Soul Food Festival Los Angeles at Exposition Park on April 11, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keipher McKennie/WireImage)
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