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Was there really a need for an Amy Winehouse biopic?

It will arrive in May, but the controversy is already raging

Was there really a need for an Amy Winehouse biopic? It will arrive in May, but the controversy is already raging

The story of Amy Winehouse is a sad tale, marked by abandonment, addiction, and turmoil. Yet, it also encapsulates a brilliant talent that shone through despite everything, becoming almost as indelible as that eyeliner and hair bun. A recent tale unfolding before our eyes at an alarming speed, leaving us feeling powerless. We had a star before us, and we did nothing as it faded away. Now, a film seeks to tell that story is at the cinema but part of the audience, her fans and friends are not liking it. Let's try to understand why.

Back to Black, a biopic dedicated to Amy Winehouse

The first trailer for Back to Black, a film dedicated to the singer of Love is a Losing Game who passed away in July 2011, was released on January 11. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, produced by Studiocanal and Monumental Pictures, with a screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh, it's now at the cinema and the public already has strong opinions about it. This isn't the first film dedicated to the singer; in 2015, Amy was released. Like the biopic, it aimed to "portray the fragile and tender personality of the singer, her relationship with family and the media, fame, addiction, generosity, and talent." However, it was a documentary that was well-received by critics, earning an Oscar in its category. It wasn't appreciated by the artist's father, Mitch Winehouse, who distanced himself from the work, deeming it less truthful. Interestingly, the father has given his blessing to Back to Black.

Controversies surrounding the film

Since the announcement of the film in 2018, controversies have not spared it. They increased as more news and images leaked directly from the set. The choice of lead actress, Marisa Abela, didn't sit well with some, and filming in Amy Winehouse's London apartment or the cemetery where she is buried raised concerns. Moreover, a significant portion of the film focuses on her addictions, depicted explicitly. Most of these controversies seem to revolve around Amy Winehouse's father, who actively participated in the biopic's creation and established a foundation in honor of his daughter, supporting international charitable activities with a focus on youth facing economic or addiction-related challenges. Neon Hitch and other friends, who chose to remain anonymous, asked to let Amy rest in peace, show respect for her talent and personal story, and avoid sensational and scandalous portrayals. Some fans even went further, speculating on Reddit about the father-daughter relationship, which, judging by the songs, wasn't the best. This could potentially deprive the man of the right to decide what can or cannot be done concerning Amy Winehouse's story.

An open ethical question: the May December case

What would be the solution? Never make a film about real-life figures? How is the film industry allowed to approach real lives with all their difficulties? This matter is thorny and more relevant than ever. It was recently discussed regarding May December, a film directed by Todd Haynes set to be released in Italy in April but already out in the United States. The film is loosely based on a recent news case that caused a stir, involving a teacher who groomed her thirteen-year-old student and later married him. It focuses on the relationship between the protagonist and an actress playing her, as well as the young man's realization of the true nature of his relationship with his wife. Recently, the real-life protagonist expressed disappointment and bitterness that no one asked for his permission to portray his story on the big screen, thereby dividing public opinion. Some believe the man should have been involved, while others are convinced that the film only uses the story as inspiration to transform into a character and humanity study. They argue that cinematic art cannot be limited by the will of the people it draws inspiration from, or it risks becoming an insincere and contrived product. Not everything can be narrated just as news. Both positions have some truth, and the more delicate the starting matter (abuse in the case of May December, addiction in the case of Back to Black), the harder it is to set aside our feelings and sensitivity. Cinema does this: it makes us uncomfortable, for better or worse.

From Rocketman to Bohemian Rhapsody: Biopic Fatigue

Not just ethical issues. On a more superficial level, it's noted how in recent years there has been a real biopic race (also fueled by US film awards, which seem to particularly love movies about iconic and troubled figures in global pop culture), with mixed results. Some users, for example, didn't particularly appreciate Bohemian Rhapsody (which, however, won an Oscar) and on the other hand, consider Rocketman underrated. Elvis falls in the middle, overshadowed by memes about Austin Butler's accent. Other works have been praised and then forgotten, like Judy in 2019. In short, perhaps we're a bit tired of seeing our recent history portrayed, discussing methods and casting, songs, and performances. Especially when it comes to expensive, heavily promoted operations that ultimately end up mediocre.

Our idea of Amy Winehouse

In the end, more than a matter of absolute rules (impossible to impose), it's a matter of approach. Everything is narratable, as long as it's told with respect. Respect, which - and it's only a shared feeling - seems to be lacking in the Back to Black operation, which also touches upon a deeply felt figure. Perhaps because of her evident vulnerabilities, perhaps because it's impossible not to feel empathy for such an obvious talent that had such a tremendously short life, perhaps because we need to wait a few more years to tell this still so painful story Amy Winehouse has earned a special place in everyone's heart, without the need for biopics and grand productions, in the understated and typically London style she loved so much.