I realize that I’m quite late in seeing the documentary “Amy.” Other reviews have lauded the filmmaker Asif Kapadia (“Senna”) and his unique documentary style. Many have called the film heartbreaking and bittersweet and powerful and dark and sad and complicated. The two words used to describe Amy are talented and tragic. I agree with all of that.
The film arcs her from teenage days joking with her two best friends through explosive fame, a nasty boyfriend/husband, a relentless exploitative press, and brutal addiction and eating disorders. And at the intersection of the bulimia and the alcohol, she died.
As the film progresses, Amy shrinks. Quite literally. And she is increasingly surrounded by big men who smother and cushion and enclose her. Her dad, manager, bandmates – all big guys who define the borders of her vision. She can’t see past them, can’t get around them. She is tiny.
Everyone in the business who is negotiating for or with her, who is guiding her career, who is fencing her into a performance schedule that she resists, who is collaborating with her musically – they’re all men. The whole business world that is making a living off of her talent: they’re all men. Not all of them are bad guys, but that’s not the point. Her girlfriends (and her original loving manager) refuse to enable her substance misuse, and while constantly assuring her that they’re there for her when she wants them, they cannot break through the wall of testosterone surrounding Amy.
Without her girlfriends, Amy is doubly vulnerable. Her team fails to shield her from the invasive flash of the paparazzi (portrayed so aggressively in the film that I felt assaulted) – either they don’t know how or they don’t mind the attention. No one shows rigorous concern about her health. Her mother says that she has never been able to discipline or direct Amy. “I’m weak,” she whines. Amy’s egotistical father loves, too much, the ricochet of her fame onto himself.
The music business is notoriously sexist, ridiculously male-dominated, and often disrespectful to talented women who would like a place at the table. If Amy could have worked with women producers, promoters, and musicians, would she have been kidnapped while unconscious and taken to a stage in Belgrade that she didn’t want to be on but which her bodyguards wouldn’t let her off? Would she have been forced to go on the road when what she needed was shelter and safety and a time to work on her writing?
Throughout the film I felt like the sexism of the industry, the exclusion of women from a fair share of the crucial roles, and the resulting masculine culture Amy had to cope with must have added in a disastrous way to her other troubles. Discrimination kills in many ways.
Here's the official trailer: