While some may be watching blue aliens on the big screen this Christmas, Philadelphians are buying tickets to a different larger-than-life story: the legacy of Whitney Houston.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is the first biopic of superstar Whitney Houston. So far, the film is getting mixed reviews from critics, but audiences in Philly and beyond are giving the movie high praise.
Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Whitney Houston is still known as “The Voice of Her Generation.” Before Houston was a household name, she recorded “Hold Me” with a familiar star: Sound of Philadelphia’s Teddy Pendergrass. “Hold Me” was the first song he recorded after his infamous accident.
The film begins in New Jersey, where Houston (portrayed by Naomi Ackie) meets and falls for Robyn Crawford (portrayed by Philly-based actress Nafessa Williams.)
Williams’ charitable foundation, Nafessa’s Fearless Foundation, sponsored a free screening of the film on Friday. Philadelphians of all ages turned out to the Walnut Street Cinemark. While there was some discrepancy as to the number of tickets available, prompting some moviegoers to leave, most stayed.
In the crowded theater, audiences laughed and cried during the film, with several audible gasps in moments where Ackie’s Houston snaps back at those she feels are taking advantage of her.
After the credits rolled, audience members left feeling inspired, uplifted and singing along.
Moviegoer Cashae Star’s expectations were exceeded. “I didn’t expect that much [from the trailer],” Star said. “I normally go see movies like this and they never serve. They never give me anything. This right here? They did it. They did! I would go see it once, twice, three times. I would bring everyone.”
Hakeem Abdul watched with his twin nieces, Brianna and Ayanna Artist. He said he was glad the film kept a positive light on Houston but didn’t completely omit the “demons” she battled.
Brianna is a freshman, studying media at Howard University. “I love supporting Black women,” she said. “As … a filmmaker, I just think we need to see more films like this: authentic and realistic. We don’t need no more trauma in film.”
“Black excellence!” interjected Ayanna.
“Yeah, Black excellence,” Brianna agreed. “Younger kids need to see Black women and Black people in the film industry making a difference.”
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” opened officially on Dec. 23; to find a showtime near you, search at the movie’s official website.
Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News.
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