The Whitney Houston Scene That Took Naomi Ackie Eight Months To Prepare For

The Whitney Houston biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody is riddled with incredible recreations of the singer’s performances throughout her lifetime. From the moment that would land her a contract in the early ‘80s to her iconic rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl, Naomi Ackie clearly had a lot of work to do behind the scenes to become “The Voice,” but there’s one scene in particular that took just a few months short of a year for her to prepare for. 

When CinemaBlend spoke to Naomi Ackie about her latest movie, we discussed the finale of I Wanna Dance With Somebody. It had the actress recreating Whitney Houston’s 1994 AMA performance, which was a medley of three songs ("I Loves You, Porgy," "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" and "I Have Nothing") performed on the same night Houston took home eight awards, including “Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist”. Ackie said this of nailing that scene: 

It took two days to film. It was actually when I read it in the script, it was the first thing I looked at on YouTube. And, so really I had been practicing that sequence for about eight months. And it was partially just me watching it over and over again, but it was also then working with my movement coach Polly Bennett, who kind of, we broke it down into little pieces. But, it's that thing you just have to, every moment I'm playing the song and like I'm doing the movements in my head. I can still do it now. That's the weird thing. It never leaves you. So I can hear it and I know what it is. It's just like, I've practiced it so much. It took a second. But, those two days were some of the most beautiful experiences I've had on this job.

In the ten-minute sequence that caps off I Wanna Dance With Somebody, the 2022 movie release focuses on Whitney Houston’s talent completely before the credits roll with one last number. Check out a comparison of a portion of the medley on YouTube

Naomi Ackie really went for every moment in the medley! When CinemaBlend also spoke to I Wanna Dance With Somebody’s director Kasi Lemmons, who previously helmed the biopic for Harriet Tubman called Harriet, she shared the importance of that scene as its filmmaker, saying this: 

I always loved that Anthony had ended his script with the medley. So it was one of my favorite things. I think I spent a lot of time. What I really wanted to nail is all these individual love stories, but of every relationship in her life,her working relationships and her family and her friends and her lovers, but also this relationship with the audience. I really wanted to nail that this is also a love story between Whitney and the audience. And so it all comes together. You see it all through the movie, but it really comes together in the medley and just how to use the camera to include the emotion of the audience and then circle back around to her and really feel this back and forth and this relationship and kind of the movement of how we're so inspired sometimes to rise to our feet and what brings you to tears about it and kind of capturing that tension and that love between her and the audience.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody was penned by Anthony McCarten, who previously wrote Bohemian Rhapsody, among other biopics. And much like his movie about Queen, this movie decided to end the script with a sequence recreating a major stage performance for Whitney Houston. The sequence comes following the movie covering three decades of Houston’s career (something that Naomi Ackie was concerned about doing). And with the scene, it ends Houston’s memory as one of tribute rather than the tragedy that befell her when she died at the age of 48 back in 2012 after being found unconscious at her Beverly Hilton suite. 

As Lemmons shares, she really feels like the finale sequence captures the relationship Houston had with her audience, along with her family and friends, the whole movie seeks to depict; among them being a same-sex relationship with Robyn Crawford early in her life, as well as her working relationship with record producer Clive Davis, played by Stanley Tucci in the film.  

The new biopic centering on a Black musician has been met with mixed reviews by critics. You can decide for yourself how Naomi Ackie and I Wanna Dance With Somebody as a whole does with tributing Whitney Houston in theaters now. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.