Writer Abdul Williams Sheds Light on ‘The Bobby Brown Story’
There's no doubt that BET hit pay dirt when it decided to shine a light on the lives of legendary R&B group, New Edition. First up was The New Edition Story, which broke rating records for the network, and became a trending topic on Twitter each night that it aired in January 2017. It only made sense that the network would then focus on the group's dynamic and controversial star, Bobby Brown.
Airing over two nights on BET in early September 2018, The Bobby Brown Story covered many of the wild, jaw-dropping stories that were detailed in his 2016 autobiography Every Little Step, and also the heart-wrenching losses Bobby has dealt with, from the death of his ex-wife Whitney Houston to the death of his daughter Bobby Kristina.
There to capture it all was Abdul Williams, the pen behind both The New Edition Story, which was a rating juggernaut and earned him a NAACP Award in 2017, and The Bobby Brown Story, which captivated NE fans once more with its tales of cocaine use by Whitney and Bobby, Bobby's relationship with Janet Jackson and more.
The series is set to air again on BET, and the Boombox caught up with Williams to get insight on the making of the film, and the truth about Bobby Brown.
What do you think draws everyone to Bobby Brown and New Edition's stories?
I think the main thing is the music stands up. You can listen to those song 20-30 years later and it still makes you feel the same way. And their performances were the same way, when you go back and watch how amazing they were solo, and all the different offshoots of New Edition, their talent shines through, and that's really what first draws you in.
Also, their personality -- when I first started getting to know them -- they weren't manufactured. They weren't a boy band like how you think of a boy band now. They were legitimate friends. They felt like guys you grew up on the block. I think that's what their appeal was-- of course girls loved them but guys liked New Edition too. They were accessible, they felt like people you knew. And that really is how they are. They know their fans put them were they are and they treat them that way. And Bobby, believe it or not is probably the most accessible one. I remember in one particular location we had to go to, we were filming a scene and it was near the trap. ... So folks saw Bobby and they rushed over, and I looked at his people, and they were like, "It's cool. This is what Bobby does." He was just taking pictures— he really just loves it. He's not "siddity" as my grandma used to say [laughing]. He's a man of the people.
What was the hardest part about writing the script?
For me, it was the emotional depth that we go to. We got deep with New Edition as well, but Bobby's story is talking about personal tragedy. I can't imagine the pain he's gone through and continues to go through with [the death of] Bobbi Kristina. It's recent too— she died in 2015, and that's something he's still dealing with and will deal with for the rest of his life. Those scenes, the scenes with Bobbi Kristina, his feelings about it, were the toughest ones to interview him about, and the toughest to write and film. But they were necessary because you can't tell his story without telling that. Hopefully we did it justice.
How much was Bobby involved in the film's creation?
He was there every step of the way. He's a producer on it as well, just like they were all on The New Edition Story. You want accuracy, and he gave it to me. When I was writing the script he wasn't looking over my shoulder or anything, but when we got through that process and the draft that I wrote, he had a chance to read it and give his input so that there were no surprises. When we filmed, he was there every day, he and his wife [Alicia Etheredge]. The only day he didn't come to set were the days when it was about Bobbi Kristina, which we all understood because it was too much. But his fingerprints are all over this, and I'm so grateful for that. We know we got it right.
Was there any juicy story that had to get left on the cutting room floor?
With our budget, we didn't have room for a cutting room floor. But there were stories that I knew that just couldn't get put in. For example, at the height of his fame, he became thick as thieves with Mike Tyson, who was also at the height of his fame. Them two got into all kind of shenanigans. They partied. They were two young black super-famous multimillionaires in the '90s and they were into it. But in putting the script together, although I loved those stories, I had to think about how it advanced the story. And then there were romantic liaisons -- and I'm cleaning it up by saying "romantic liaisons" -- but I couldn't put everything in. Bobby has an autobiography where he tells it all. The film was all in service to the evolution of his character. That's what determined what made the movie versus what didn't make the movie.
How is your relationship with Bobby now?
I got to know him, I met him in 2006, when I first stared doing interviews for the New Edition Story. I would say our relationship is great. We've gotten to be cool and be friends. But the thing is, when you're writing about somebody, you have to have certain lines, and I think he understood that. We're cool but I have to write honestly. If we're not telling about your personal demons and the mistakes that you've made, then we're not doing it honestly. Bobby was willing to share his life with me.
We know that Bobby has a notorious public reputation. Did you believe this film would change that perception?
I thought about that a lot as we were doing this. Our goal wasn't to get you on Bobby's side. I just wanted you to understand him better. As much of a public life as he's lived, he never really fought back against a lot of the shit that people said about him. He has a great sense of humor and he can laugh at himself.
I'm not interested in you watching the movie and coming away like, "Bobby is a really great guy." I just want you to have some context for what you saw. I realized in doing this a lot of the negative perception of Bobby started after him and Whitney got married, and it was because of our perception of Whitney and how high of an esteem we held Whitney—and we should. She's arguably the best voice to ever grace us and a superstar in every sense of the word. But for a lot of us, our perception was, "Oh no, he's not supposed to be with her." The public perception was, "He doesn't deserve her." And I thought that's not fair. She pursued him. They were legitimately in love, no matter what you might think about their marriage. It ended because they'd reached the end of the line, and we get into all that too.
Bobby did a lot of dumb shit and he owns up to that, so I'm not making excuses for him. But I will say the perception of him changed because of his relationship with her and I never thought that was fair. We get into his feelings about that.
(Interview by Tatyana Jenene)