“I’m proud that I am able to give a passionate, positive portrayal of two amazing people,” said Burnside in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday. “We follow their trials and tribulations, their struggles and things they were forced to deal with. We showed how this never changed their beautiful souls.”
She also wanted to highlight the unfortunate parallels of their lives.
Both Houston and her daughter faced brutal scrutiny from the press. Both battled harsh criticism over the men they loved. Both participated in reality shows that did not appear to help their images. Both suffered from drug addiction and died in similar ways, drowning in bathtubs three years apart.
At the same time, Burnside wanted to emphasize the deep love and devotion they had for each other. She said at the time of Houston’s death, she was working to move her daughter to Los Angeles from Atlanta to build her acting and singing career.
Burnside, who is a few years older than Bobbi Kristina Brown, used Brown’s nickname Krissy when referencing her: “I loved how sensitive and sweet Krissy was. She was like this big loving kid that just wanted to share her love with everybody. She was a little naïve.”
And she admired Houston’s “pureness of her heart. I love how strong and motivational she always was to me. She always taught me I could do anything.”
A few notable names participated in the documentary, including producer Randy Jackson (who worked on Houston’s first album) and Houston friends Cheryl “Cherrelle” Norton (best known for her 1985 hit duet “Saturday Love”) and Perri “Pebbles” Reid (whose biggest hit was 1988′s “Mercedes Boy”).
Family members and friends also provided insight, as did a drug counselor who helped Houston during some of her darkest moments with cocaine.
“Some are camera shy and aren’t in the business of doing stuff like this,” Burnside said. “But they shared the same common interest. They owed it to Whitney and Krissy.”
Shawna Foster, a fellow executive producer who did many VH1 “Behind the Music” specials in the late 2000s including those for Bobby Brown and New Edition, said each interviewee “provides a voice a little deeper and more personal than other Whitney documentaries. You’re hearing from people from the real inside, and it’s not tabloidy or salacious. It’s personal and special.”
Burnside couldn’t convince her mother Simone, who was super close to Houston, to go on camera. “She was like the sister Whitney never had,” Burnside said. “Whitney had total trust in my mom. Even now, my mom wants to keep her memories private.”
Two important players did not participate: Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown and Houston’s sister-in-law Pat Houston, who was an executive producer of the 2012 Lifetime reality show featuring Bobbi Kristina Brown grieving her mom’s death. Both Brown and Houston have written books that talk extensively about their relationship with Whitney Houston and Bobbi Kristina Brown.
While Bobby Brown is treated gently in the documentary, Nick Gordon is painted a villain. He was tight with Bobbi Kristina Brown for years and was in the house when she fell into a coma in a bathtub. Gordon later died from a drug overdose himself. Gordon’s brother Jack Walker Jr. shows up on camera to support his late brother.
Foster helped get Walker on board. “I tried to be open-minded,” Burnside said. “The personal part of me, quoting my godmother, was to say, ‘Hell to the naw.’ But professionally, I was OK with it.”
Still, Walker’s comments did not change Burnside’s negative feelings toward Gordon, who was accused of controlling and stealing money from Brown. (In a civil suit in 2016, a Fulton County judge ordered Gordon to pay Brown’s family $36 million for her wrongful death.)
Burnside said she felt the spirits of both women around her as she worked on the project.
“I know that Whitney anointed this project,” she said. “Whitney’s spirit is strong. Krissy’s spirit is strong. You can’t shake it. This is how I was able to move forward through a lot of bumps in the road along the way.”
WHERE TO WATCH
“Whitney Houston & Bobbi Kristina: Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” Saturday, 8 p.m. Lifetime