Sam Taylor-Johnson will direct an upcoming Amy Winehouse biopic – but with two existing documentaries and talks of a hologram tour and musical, there is a very real danger of capitalising off the singer and her suffering
Four years after talks began, it’s been announced that a new Amy Winehouse biopic is finally in the works. The film, called Back to Black, is set to explore the life of the singer and will be directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. The project has the support of the late singer’s estate, including her father Mitch Winehouse.
Back in 2018, the family partnered with producers Alison Owen and Debra Hayward to discuss creating a film to celebrate Amy’s life and work, with proceeds going towards the Amy Winehouse Foundation – a charity set up to help vulnerable young people. “We now feel able to celebrate Amy’s extraordinary life and talent,” Amy’s father Mitch said in a statement at the time, seven years after Winehouse tragically died of alcohol poisoning in 2011. “And we know through the Amy Winehouse Foundation that the true story of her illness can help so many others who might be experiencing similar issues.”
When talking about which actress could play the singer in the biopic, Mitch said: “I wouldn’t mind betting it would be an unknown, young, English – London, cockney – actress who looks a bit like Amy.”
This isn’t the first time there have been talks of creating a film about the iconic singer: in 2015, a biopic directed by Kristen Sheridan and starring Noomi Rapace as Winehouse was touted, but the project failed to get off the ground.
Multiple films about the singer have already been released, too. Amy, a documentary directed by Asif Kapadia, was released in 2015 and went on to win an Oscar. The Winehouse family were critical of the work, calling it “misleading and contains some basic untruths” while Mitch Winehouse – who came across very badly in the film, and seen as exploiting his daughter – described it as “horrible”. Then in 2021, the BBC released a documentary about Amy Winehouse titled Reclaiming Amy to mark the 10th anniversary of her death.
It’s not surprising that there’s an appetite for another biopic about Amy’s brief and exceptional life, but it’s worth questioning whether the film industry should blindly pander to these whims. Questions about the ethics of creating films about deceased celebrities have been raised in recent years, following a slew of posthumous biopics and documentaries about other famous women who suffered tragic deaths such as Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe. It’s disturbing to witness women who were exploited by the media in life continue to be exploited by the media in death, especially when intense media scrutiny drove them (in part) to their untimely ends in the first place.
During her life, Amy was the victim of incessant hounding from the tabloid press, with red-top editors viciously churning out salacious headlines about her in order to sell papers. Now, on top of this new biopic – which comes after Amy and Reclaiming Amy – there are talks of a hologram tour and a musical, as dramatised, sensationalist portrayals of Amy’s turbulent life continue to line the pockets of execs and producers. As Daisy Jones wrote in 2015: “While art has always been a business, and arguably needs to be in order to sustain itself, it’s hard to shake the fact that people are capitalising off Amy Winehouse in the same way they always have done, even after her death. Surely nobody needs to tell her story, because she already did it so beautifully herself.”
There’s hope that this biopic may be ‘different’ as it has the backing of Amy’s family – but at the end of the day, Amy isn’t here to have her say on how her life is represented. Her music itself is arguably a powerful enough legacy anyway – putting on Back to Black is surely a more appropriate way of honouring the late singer’s life than watching something which monetises her suffering. Nearly 11 years on from her death, perhaps it’s time we let her rest in peace.