Nafessa Williams Speaks To ‘Careful’ Way Whitney Houston And Robyn Crawford’s Queer Relationship Is Depicted In I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Whitney Houston’s life in the spotlight had the singer finding great success for her incredible vocal skills and hit music, while also being in the headlines for a tumultuous relationship with Bobby Brown and her battle with substance abuse. An aspect of the record-breaking musician that is often overlooked is her longtime friendship with creative director Robyn Crawford. As Crawford disclosed in her 2019 memoir, Houston and her were in a romantic relationship early in their lives. The biopic Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody explores this. 

When CinemaBlend spoke with I Wanna Dance With Somebody star Nafessa Williams about depicting Robyn Crawford, the Black Lightning actress spoke to portraying the queer relationship between Naomi Ackie’s Whitney Houston and Robyn Crawford for the 2022 movie release. In her words: 

I think the most important part of it was to show the love and the adoration, which I believe was the foundation that they shared for one another and the loyalty that Robin had towards her. And just to show that soulmates come in all different forms, although they were able to explore them all, whether they were in a relationship or not, they were truly soulmates, take the romance out of it. It just was real pure love that they had for each other. And, I just really wanted that to come across. I also was just really careful in the way that I represented Robyn. I wanted to approach that with a lot of care and just being sensitive that I'm playing a real person too.

Robyn Crawford broke her silence on her relationship with Whitney Houston in A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston, where she shared that the pair had a queer relationship with one another ahead of the singer becoming a cultural icon. They lived together as a couple at one point and were sexually intimate, but as Houston found fame, signing her first contract at 19 with Clive Davis, played by Stanley Tucci in I Wanna Dance With Somebody, their romance fizzled out into friendship. 

The latest Whitney Houston movie contextualizes how important Robyn Crawford was to the singer’s life as she became a major star and even got married to Bobby Brown and had children with him. As Crawford previously recalled in her book (via The Guardian), in a scene that inspires one in I Wanna Dance With Somebody, following Houston being signed, she handed Crawford a Bible and told her they’d need to quit having sex “because it would make our journey even more difficult” and told her “if they found out – because her career was taking off – they’d use it against us”.

Their friendship would still go on to last decades, with Robyn Crawford as a part of Houston’s team as her creative director. As Nafessa Williams shared during our interview, she and Ackie, the latter of whom portrays Whitney Houston over thirty years of her career for this biopic, took great “care” in depicting the relationship as a complicated one over years that dealt with a lot of struggles. Ultimately, Williams imagines Crawford and Houston as “soulmates” due to the loyalty they had for each other over the years. 

When it came to Nafessa Williams’ time researching for the role of Robyn Crawford, she told us she found it “really tough” to find footage of the creative director. Williams said she really respected and admired that she “played her part” and didn’t fawn for the spotlight. Williams calls Crawford’s book her “saving grace” for understanding the role.

Check out the Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody trailer here on CinemaBlend ahead of the new biopic about the Black musician hitting theaters on December 23.  

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.