Asif Kapadia’s Amy was released on Friday to a lot of hype. 5 star reviews were everywhere, and the natural desire for people to understand her meant that whether or not the film was any good, it was always going to do well. I did not like Kapadia’s Amy at all.
I remember a long time ago, I was very much addicted to someone. I remember one night, as with most nights during this period, I was drunk and hysterically crying. It was a period where I wasn’t eating, my stomach permanently full with anxiety. It is the only period of my life where I can safely say I was mentally unwell. My two best friends were looking at me, holding my hands, their faces a mixture of despair and frustration. They were begging me to end the situation, promising me that things were never going to get any better. They were of course, bang on the money, but it took me a very long time to find the strength to stop. Because really, you can listen to all the advice in the world, but when you are addicted to someone as I was, it will only ever end when you have had enough.
Unlike Amy Winehouse, the person I was addicted to was not a drug addict. Had he have been, and had he cared enough to want me to be one too, I can pretty much guarantee that I would have been. I would have done anything he asked, because I was completely and utterly obsessed with him.
I have since, as I’m sure nearly everyone reading this article has, been the friend holding the hand. I have been the person silently wishing that they would get away from the person or the situation that was hurting them. I have been the person literally screaming at them to wake up in the vague hope that they will see sense, but at the same time, I knew that it wouldn’t happen until they wanted it to, because like me, and like Amy, they were addicted.
Throughout her criminally short life, it appears that Amy was addicted to a lot of things. Her bulimia, which in itself is a compulsion to make yourself sick, was present long before her alcohol or drug problems, long before her addiction to Blake. It is worth noting at this stage, that it was indeed her bulimia, along with her alcohol addiction that ultimately took her life away from her.
Perhaps the worst symptom of addiction is that is separates you from everything that you really love- your behaviour alienates you from your friends and family. What Amy really loved was music. This is apparent, not through Kapadia’s film, but through the music itself. Her music was her very being. For those listening, it was the window to her heart. Whether or not you have experienced addiction, it is doubtful that anyone can deny that addiction itself is one of the greatest, most destructive evils in this world.
Sometimes, people get addiction and love confused. Maybe a heroin addict thinks they love heroin. Maybe I thought I loved him. But, in post-addiction clarity, it is very obvious that is not the case. No former alcoholic would announce that they were in love with alcohol. Love is wonderful. It is safe, it is secure, it makes you feel good, it is mutual, and it gives you all the excitement of addiction without the crushing pain that accompanies it.
So how then, when addiction was so obviously the destructive catalyst that lead to her demise, can Kapadia promote the idea that anything other than addiction is to blame? The lion’s share of the blame in the film is lobbed at the press. So I thought it would be helpful to list other artists that receive similar levels of attention and exploitation in the media:
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Caitlyn Jenner, Britney Spears, Eminem, Drake, Kanye West, Zayn Malick, Lindsay Lohan, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Jay Z, Harry Styles, Katie Price, Justin Beiber, Mick Jagger, Stephen Fry, Stephen Spielberg, Kate Moss, Ricky Gervais, David Beckham, Victoria Beckham…. and I’m running out of room.
The people listed above have some things in common. They are all famous which means that on some level, they are all being exploited. Being a celebrity means that a lot of the people around you have an agenda. That is not new or interesting or illuminating, it is a fact. The people listed above are also alive. Amy is not. Many of them are survivors of addiction. Amy is not.
The people listed above also have lots of differences. Some court the press, others do not. Some are celebrated, others are sneered at. There is no pattern. How they choose to deal with their fame is what makes them who they are. To suggest that Amy Winehouse was hounded to her death is to suggest that any one of the names listed above are earmarked for the same fate. It is to suggest that they are all doomed.
Now of course, having people around you that are supportive when you’re an addict is vital to your recovery.
What is clear is that Amy had several people around her that loved her. Some of them, including her manager Nick and her friends Juliette and Lauren openly begged her to stop. She, like thousands and thousands of others, was not ready to listen to those people. In Kapadia’s Amy, Mitch Winehouse, her father, is presented as someone who chose to exploit her. Whether or not Mitch made poor errors in judgment at times is one thing, but to suggest that anything Mitch could have done would be the difference between Amy being alive or dead is nothing short of insane. To suggest that Blake Fielder, a fellow addict (he overdosed not long after her death but survived), could have done anything to help her is equally mad.
Amy’s addiction separated her from the people that loved her, because that’s what addiction does. It is not Amy’s fault that she is not here, it is addiction’s fault. But you can’t hurt or punish addiction because it does not have feelings. You can’t ask Amy what she thinks because she is not here. But maybe you think about all the times when your behaviour was destructive, and ask yourself how often you ignored advice, or how you would feel if a stranger blamed the people that you loved for what happened.
If, like me, you feel even a mild affinity with her which generates in you a deep desire to understand her, then the best way to do this would be to listen to her music, the window to her incredible soul.