Bobby Brown Rewrites His Own Narrative


The Bobby Brown Story aired on BET on Tuesday and Wednesday as something of a sequel to the network’s three-part New Edition biopic, which was well-received when it premiered in 2017. The fact that Bobby Brown had a significant amount of creative control as a producer on the film means the storytelling is slanted—a classic example of an artist using their own license to rewrite a contentious public narrative. The two-part biopic covers familiar salacious ground: we see Brown and Whitney Houston meeting at the 1989 Soul Train Awards where Houston was booed, and we see highlights and lowlights from their relationship, including verbal arguments and scenes of the two doing cocaine—nothing shocking or revealing to fans. But truth is inevitably blurred when it comes to biopics in which the subject is involved in the filmmaking.

It’s not like viewers don’t end up questioning the narrator’s version of events anyway—plenty of people balked at the scene where Brown (played by Woody McClain) is in bed with Janet Jackson, although it’s a relationship he wrote about in his memoir. Side-eyes also raised over a scene in which the actor who plays Brown’s current wife Alicia Etheridge-Brown retorts during a heated exchange, “Do I look like Whitney Houston to you?” But the emphasis with a project like The Bobby Brown Story is more on highlighting the changed man at the center—and in this case presenting evidence against Brown’s purported “bad boy” image—and not so much about, for example, the mutual destruction at play between him and Houston (played here by Gabrielle Dennis).

As with many of these biopics (see: Straight Outta Compton, which neglected to cover Dr. Dre’s assault against Dee Barnes), the moments that weren’t depicted can be just as revealing about the subject as those that were. The Bobby Brown Story, for instance doesn’t mention the domestic violence incident, which Brown later denied. From a Variety article published in July:

In 2003, Brown was charged with battery stemming from an altercation with Houston. She later appeared beside him in court with a visible bruise on her cheek when he turned himself in to authorities.
Houston’s publicist issued a statement at the time of the incident which read, “Bobby Brown is very apologetic about what happened and hopes his wife forgives him.”
On Thursday, the third anniversary of the death of his daughter Bobbi Kristina, Brown announced plans to build a domestic violence shelter in her memory.
Earlier in the panel, Brown said he hopes that the upcoming BET miniseries about his life that he was at the press tour to promote –“The Bobby Brown Story” –will help correct what he views as misconceptions about himself, his life, and career. Brown said that the biggest misconception about him is that he is “a bad guy.”

As Houston told the Washington Post in 1992, “Bobby had an image, and I had an image… He was this bad boy and I was this good girl singing in a beautiful dress, and never the twain shall meet.”

For the subjects involved, the self-produced biopic is a kind of unobstructed release of their side of the truth, which is unfortunate for the people in their lives who aren’t around to dispute it. For the viewer, it’s a nostalgic, intimate (and debatable) encyclopedia that gives us both tough and light moments, including the best one from Part 2 of The Bobby Brown Storya reenactment of a classic scene (Whitney in a visor and Bobby in tiny glasses dancing together in a hotel) from the classic 2005 reality show Being Bobby Brown, which as a friend of mine joked “put Bravo on the map.”

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