Whitney Houston will soon posthumously take her place amongst the recent cinematic annals of legendary music stars to receive the biopic treatment. The developing project in question, titled after her 1987 smash hit, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, has just found itself a studio home with Sony’s TriStar pictures, having also secured a director and even a targeted 2022 release window.
I Wanna Dance with Somebody is indeed moving forward with Sony’s TriStar, which has reportedly prevailed in a bidding war against five other studios and streaming platforms, according to Deadline. Now, said studio is wasting little time with the project, having hired director Stella Meghie (The Photograph), who will work off a script by Anthony McCarten, a scribe who brings auspicious music biopic experience, having written the screenplay for 2018’s $900 million-grossing Bohemian Rhapsody, which featured Rami Malek’s Oscar-winning performance as Queen’s Freddie Mercury, and was the arguable catalyst for the subsequent wave of music biopics that this particular offering currently rides.
Meghie and McCarten are joined here by producers in The Whitney Houston Estate, Primary Wave and Clive Davis, the Grammy-winning music producer, who was a mentor to the late Houston. Additionally, Nicole Brown, Shary Shirazi, and Brittney Morrisey are overseeing on behalf of TriStar. As Brown expresses of the acquisition in a statement:
“Whitney just makes you want to get out of your seat and sing and dance! She is anthemic in every way. Anthony McCarten has bottled that up in his masterful screenplay bringing this beloved legend to life in a way we’ve never seen her – funny, exhilarating, aspirational, complex and incredibly human. Add to that Stella Meghie, a diehard fan, who is so gifted at telling beautiful, modern, feminine tales. With the guidance of Pat Houston, the legendary Clive Davis, Larry Mestel, and Denis O’Sullivan and Jeff Kalligheri, we have the absolute dream team to create the ultimate celebration of Whitney’s incredible life and musical achievements.”
Of course, Whitney Houston conjured a career that may be summarized by 6 Grammy Awards, 16 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, 2 Emmys and a posthumous induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but left a pop culture legacy that cannot be so easily quantified. Besides brandishing unmistakably powerful pipes for mega-hits spanning back to the mid-1980s such as “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All,” “Didn’t We Almost Have it All,” “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and the biopic’s eponymous song, Houston also delivered one of the definitive performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at 1991’s Super Bowl XXV, and even enjoyed a successful side gig on the big screen, notably starring in 1992’s The Bodyguard opposite Kevin Costner, a tenure that yielded her ubiquitous hit cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” She’s also known for film roles in 1995’s Waiting to Exhale, 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife and last appeared in 2012’s Jordin Sparks-starring music drama, Sparkle.
However, don’t expect I Wanna Dance with Somebody to shy away from the tragic aspects of her prematurely-cut-short life. Indeed, complementing Houston’s array of career highs, the film will, as the producers express, be “very frank about the price that super-stardom exacted,” focusing on Whitney’s purportedly tumultuous relationships, along with her downward spiral with drug addiction; one that ultimately came at the cost of her very life when she was found drowned in a bathtub in the Beverly Hills Hilton on February 11, 2012, dead at the young age of 48. Thusly, as Clive Davis expresses of the bittersweet project:
“From all my personal and professional experience with Whitney from her late teenage years to her tragic, premature death, I know the full Whitney Houston story has not yet been told. I am so glad that Anthony McCarten has committed to a no holds barred, musically rich screenplay that finally reveals the whole Whitney whose vocal genius deeply affected the world while she bravely battled the demons that were to be her undoing.”
I Wanna Dance with Somebody will serve as a prospective platform on which director Stella Meghie can break big. She wrote and directed this past February’s romantic drama, The Photograph, which was headlined by Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield. She also fielded big screen efforts like The Weekend, Everything, Everything and Jean of the Joneses, along with television runs on Insecure, Grown-ish and The First Wives Club. Writer Anthony McCarten, however, will pad an already-impressive resume of biopics, having worked on Oscar-yielding offerings such as Darkest Hour (focused on Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill) and The Theory of Everything (Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking). His most recent effort, this past December’s Netflix film, The Two Popes (with Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis), earned three Oscar nominations, including one for himself for “Best Adapted Screenplay.” He’s also writing the screenplay for Paramount’s biopic on The Bee Gees.
Interestingly enough, while COVID has thrown the film industry’s long-made scheduling plans into complete disarray, TriStar has reportedly made plans to release I Wanna Dance with Somebody in the far-off window of Thanksgiving 2022.