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13th Jul 2022

Do we really need an Amy Winehouse biopic?

Sarah McKenna Barry

Is it fair to dramatise the lives of people who are no longer around to give their consent?

Following years of speculation, it looks like an Amy Winehouse biopic is finally in the works.

According to Deadline, Sam Taylor-Johnson, who directed Fifty Shades of Grey is reportedly on board with Studio Canal to bring Back to Black to life.

The film is said to “take a look at the life and music” of Winehouse, and it’s understood that the Amy Winehouse estate have given their full support to the project. Casting for the role of Amy is said to be underway.

The life, success, and ultimately death of Winehouse has long been a source of fascination in Hollywood. The 2015 film Amy went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, but until now, the Rehab singer has yet to be memorialised through a feature film.

While there has been some excitement around the project and much discussion over who should take on the role of Amy, there have also been some questions about whether an Amy Winehouse biopic is necessary, or even appropriate.

Biopics are nothing new to Hollywood, but in recent years we’ve seen an influx of features telling the stories of public figures who are no longer with us. From features about Diana, Princess of Wales to Marilyn Monroe, the film industry has a penchant for condensing the lives of complex human beings into a two-hour story. While these productions rake in profits for film studios, they also raise ethical questions. Is it fair to dramatise – and at times fictionalise – the private moments of vulnerable people when they’re no longer alive to give their consent?

Similar questions must be raised as Back to Black goes into production, particularly when you consider Amy’s own thoughts about media and control. In 2004, she spoke to The Guardian about how she shouldn’t have to answer to anyone else.

“At the end of the day, I don’t have to answer to you, or my ex,” she said. “I shouldn’t say God, or a man in a suit from a record company. I have to answer to myself.”

As well as questions about consent, one has to acknowledge the tendency of biopics to sensationalise the very real struggles of their subjects. For Amy, this is familiar territory. Throughout her career – and even in the period following her death – her talent and artistry were overshadowed by the tabloids’ fascination with her personal life. Photos of her looking unwell were plastered on front-pages, and newspapers regularly ran stories about her addiction issues in order to pad out their bottom line. Will Back to Black be able to resist sensation in favour of a more compassionate take on the artist? We can only hope.

Aside from questions about ethics, I can’t help but wonder why an Amy Winehouse biopic is even necessary, particularly when her legacy is kept alive through her catalogue of music. Would an actress portraying the singer not dilute or distort her talents? What’s more, Amy herself always stood by the power of her music to stand on its own. She famously described music as “the only thing that will give and give and not take”.

Now, by all means, it’s entirely possible that Studio Canal will be able to produce a biopic that serves as an appropriate and respectful tribute to Amy. However, when we have access to her legacy in the form of her own voice, it begs the question why a biopic would be necessary in the first place.