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Back to Black: Why the controversial Amy Winehouse biopic is angering fans

Back to Black: Why the controversial Amy Winehouse biopic is angering fans


Then there’s the issue of embodying of Winehouse’s iconic presence and character onscreen – surely a near impossible feat. Abela’s resemblance to Winehouse has been called into question, with Winehouse’s father Mitch feeling the need to defend the casting decision: “Marisa’s a great choice for the role, even if she doesn’t look exactly like Amy.” Further, the decision to cast a “newcomer” in such a major role seems puzzling.

Given that Sam Taylor-Johnson will be taking the helm as director however, there is hope that Back to Black may stand up as an authentic portrait. The filmmaker proved her biopic credentials with Nowhere Boy, about John Lennon, which gained generally warm reviews and four Bafta nominations. According to a report in Rolling Stone, Taylor-Johnson was also reportedly friends with Winehouse. “My connection to Amy began when I left college and was hanging out in the creatively diverse London borough of Camden,” Taylor-Johnson said in a statement last year. “I first saw her perform at a talent show at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, and it was immediately obvious she wasn’t just ‘talent’… she was genius.”

Winehouse’s father, Mitch, is also involved in the film, which has raised concerns that he may in some way attempt to rewrite his daughter’s story. The Amy Winehouse Foundation founder was a vocal opponent of Kapadia’s documentary for its less-than-flattering portrayal. He has also been criticised for his involvement in an Amy Winehouse hologram tour – now quashed after “unique challenges and sensitivities” – and a Winehouse Broadway musical which is currently in the works.

With Sofia Coppola’s biopic of Priscilla Presley in cinemas now, and the lives of popstars like Britney Spears being re-examined, it is clear that stories about female celebrities who experience abuse or hardship are popular – but what does that mean for Amy Winehouse? “More recently, it had begun to feel as if [Winehouse] was finally being remembered not as a purely tragic figure but as a generational talent who released two cherished records – and someone who wasn’t purely self-destructive, but a victim of systematic abuse and mental illness,” writes Shaad D’Souza in The Guardian. “Back to Black threatens not to honour that legacy, but to revive all the demeaning noise that obscured it in the first place.”

Back to Black is released on 12 April in the UK and on 10 May in the US.

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