This week The Daily Beast released a piece that was picked up by several outlets (including Jezebel) that proclaimed Lifetime’s new Whitney biopic as having hinted at Whitney Houston‘s rumored romance with best friend (and out lesbian) Robyn Crawford. I was surprised because, having watched the same screener, I was actively looking for such hints and found, well, nothing. Whitney, which doesn’t premiere until January 17, is a brief snapshot of Whitney Houston’s life.
Taking place between 1989 and the late ’90s, only certain topics are breached by director Angela Bassett, namely the singer’s torrid relationship with Bobby Brown. Robyn is there, played by the talented yet under-used Yolonda Ross, but she’s shown as a confidant; a caring best friend that is gay only in appearance (preferring androgynous suits and button-up shirts with slacks to dresses donned by the glamorous women around her). Robyn shows up from the beginning, arriving with Whitney at the the Soul Train Awards, wearing a suit that nicely compliments her best friend’s gold and metallic sequined dress.
Robyn is Whitney’s handler, of sorts, leading her through fans on the carpet and inside to say hello to other artists, including a meeting with Bobby. It’s made very clear that Whitney is intrigued by Bobby, watching with an excited face as he performs a highly sexual version of “Every Little Step I Take.” Robyn laughs and shakes her head. Backstage, Whitney and Bobby flirt while Robyn calls from nearby, “Whitney, they need us,” but it’s not done in a jealous girlfriend type way. Instead, Robyn appears to love and care for Whitney more than anyone else in her life, including her own mother. When Cissy (Whitney’s mom) and other family members show disdain for Whitney’s relationship, Robyn encourages Whitney to follow her heart. Any reservations she might have is not shown to be because she’s pining after her best friend, but because she seems skeptical of the man who has already cheated on her friend and has several children from previous relationships.
Whitney and Robyn live together in New Jersey, and Whitney explains to Bobby early on in their relationship, “She’s been my best friend since I was 16. She runs my businesses.” Whitney cares for Robyn, buys her gifts, sits on her lap, and is affectionate toward her. While it’s clear Robyn shares that affection, there is nothing overtly romantic or sexual about their relationship, at least not in this film. Whitney is most interested in Bobby, though she is at first afraid to commit, explaining her trepidation:
“What’s in your heart?” Robyn asks Whitney. “That’s what you should follow.” Whitney and Bobby are married, with Robyn as the Maid of Honor in a lilac blazer and floral headpiece. It turns out, however, that everyone was right to be a little worried, and so were her family and friends. Bobby cheats on her, and he and Robyn get into an altercation where he asks her to stay out of their marriage. Robyn maintains a respectful boundary, telling Whitney she doesn’t think Bobby is a bad guy, just not right for her, and she should end it before they hurt each other any worse.
Yolonda Ross has played several queer roles before taking on Robyn, including starring in Cheryl Dunye‘s 2001 film Stranger Inside. She romanced Jessica Leccia in Slippery Slope and was part of the John Cameron Mitchell queer indie Shortbus. Yolonda told The Daily Beast she knows Robyn personally, having lived in New York for years, but doesn’t confirm or deny any truth to a romantic relationship between the friends.
Yolonda says the way she played the role was not necessarily “shying away from” the possible romance.
Today, Robyn has a partner, editorial projects editor at Esquire magazine, Lisa Hintelmann. They live together with their adopted twins in New Jersey. She has never publicly commented on rumors that she and Whitney were romantically involved, but Whitney’s mother has gone on record to say the gossip isn’t true. Those who watch Whitney might see the love between the singer and her best friend, but watching for any kind of secret romance will only frustrate you, because the amount of sex Whitney has with Bobby Brown is almost too hot for Lifetime.
Robyn has, however, penned a 2012 tribute to Whitney in (where else?) Esquire, writing about meeting Whitney as a teen, and working with her forever after. She writes of her with so much love:
If Whitney Houston did have a lesbian relationship with Robyn, it’s not to be found in Whitney. And it looks like Robyn Crawford doesn’t feel the need to clear it up for anyone, either. So enjoy Lifetime’s depiction (which includes YaYa DeCosta doing larger than life impersonations of the legend) and a lot of cocaine. At least the lesbian character comes out looking like a really great friend, even if, at any point in Whitney’s life and career, she happened to be more.