Janet Jackson premiered her long-awaited documentary on Lifetime and A&E over the weekend. It was a total of four hours long, with the first two premiering Friday night and the next two premiering Saturday night. In the film, Janet opens up and takes viewers through her life story. She discussed her family, relationships, career, and even the fallout from the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
The latter was needed, as it gave Janet an opportunity to have the last word after The New York Times documentary on the incident premiered last year.
Let's start with the positives.
In the beginning, Janet is seen with her brother Randy (who also serves as the film's co-executive producer) visiting their childhood home in Gary, Indiana. This was during Jackson's "State of the World Tour" in 2017. The two are seen walking through the house as Randy shares memories with Janet of their time living there. This scene is intercut with interviews talking about the Jacksons' time in their hometown.
This moment is an example of great editing and storytelling.
Janet interviews her mother Katherine for the film and her father Joe even makes an appearance at one of her concerts. Janet explains that her father was tough, but loved and cared for his children. Some might feel she's glossing over her siblings' allegations of abuse. However, this is Janet's story and perhaps she's sticking to her experiences alone.
Janet also tearfully discusses her father after his death while getting her makeup done in a trailer on a video set. She expresses how thankful she is that she got to connect with him before he got sick. She also says that she's happy he got to spend time with his grandson. This is an important moment to include, as it's obviously a tremendous loss for Janet.
She also talks about her brother Michael's passing and how it affected her. The film ends with a message from Janet and Randy, dedicating the documentary to the memories of their father and brother. Proceeds from the documentary will also be donated to the Boys and Girls Club in Gary, Indiana.
The film also touches on Jackson's experiences with racism while growing up in Encino, California. She talks about being called the n-word and having her classmates rub her skin, asking if her color comes off. It's important to highlight these moments, because it shows that even with money and fame, a family like the Jacksons weren't immune to the pain of racism.
There's a bunch of previously unseen footage included of Janet filming the "Control" music video, as well as writing "The One" interlude with David Ritz in the studio for the "Damita Jo" album. These moments are fantastic for hardcore fans such as myself.
We also see some moments in the studio with her and Jimmy Jam while recording the song "You Need Me," at the start of the "Rhythm Nation" sessions. An argument ensues between Janet and Jimmy, before she leaves the studio very angry. This was a fantastic scene to include, because it places a real light on their partnership. While it might have lasted decades, it wasn't always perfect. And this scene brilliantly showcased their real human moments.
In addition to David Ritz, the film includes interviews with many of Janet's friends and co-workers over the years. These include Tina Landon, Gil Duldulao, Jimmy Jam, and Paula Abdul. For fans who have closely followed Janet's career and creative partnerships, their inclusion is much appreciated.
There are also incredible unseen home movies shot by Janet's ex-husband, Rene Elizondo Jr. Elizondo filmed Janet's life for an entire decade. In the film, we see him documenting a trip to Hawaii, Janet receiving her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and even his beach proposal. There are even incredible never-before-seen outtakes from Jackson's 1993 topless photo shoot. The iconic image became the cover of her "janet." album and was later used for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
It's unclear as to how these unseen home movies ended up in the documentary. Did Janet get them in the divorce settlement? Or is this the result of a reconciliation between the two, with Rene giving his permission for the footage to be used? Unfortunately, this is the first of many questions that aren't answered in the documentary.
This documentary could've been an opportunity for Janet to dispel much of the rumors that have surrounded her over the years. However, many of them are ignored. We do hear Janet deny the rumor of having a secret child with her first husband, James DeBarge. However, there's no mention of her rumored fling with Bobby Brown, her alleged altercation with niece Paris, or even whether or not she converted to Islam after her last marriage to Wissam Al Mana.
The biggest issue with the documentary is how much is left out. Of course, I'm speaking as a hardcore Janet fan. To the average viewer who isn't very familiar with Janet, however, these issues might be minimal at most.
It's still hard not to take issue with the key details left out of important events in Jackson's life.
When Jackson made the "Control" album in 1986, she moved to Minneapolis to work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. She lived on her own for the first time away from her family. At Jam and Lewis' insistence, she didn't have a driver or a bodyguard. She was uncomfortable with her new production duo's coarse language. She was even harassed by a group of men when coming home one night with a girlfriend. This experience inspired the song "Nasty."
This was an important moment in Jackson's life and development. It's a key experience in her growth as a person and blossoming as an artist. However, we don't hear about any of this in the documentary.
We don't hear about the meeting she and her father had with Jam and Lewis before making the album. Janet's father famously told the duo, who were known for their work with Prince, "I don't want my daughter sounding like Prince."
In fact, the film suggests Janet fired her father as manager before the "Control" album was made. That isn't true. She fired him after the album was released. And Janet doesn't even go into the moment she fired him. In a 2006 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson said it was one of the hardest things she's ever done. She detailed how she fired him in person at the Jackson family home.
Such stories would've made for an emotionally impactful film that hooked the viewer in and got them invested in her story.
Jackson also fails to discuss her bout with depression in the mid-nineties while making "The Velvet Rope" album. In previous interviews, Jackson stated she cried every day, couldn't speak, and would bash her head against the wall because she hated her appearance. Jackson also previously said that she missed many recording sessions during this time. She even said that certain lyrics were just too painful to sing, forcing her to take a break and come back to them later.
Janet revealed in earlier interviews that during a trip, she met a cowboy who changed her life. While she has never revealed his identity, she claims this man used to be an entertainer. She opened up to him about her issues and they developed a friendship, where he became a part of her healing. She once spoke of an exercise he made her do, where she had to look in the mirror and find something she liked about herself. Jackson said that she would cry many times, due to not seeing anything she liked. She eventually found out that she likes the small of her back.
Again, these stories would've tugged at the viewer's heartstrings and gave a glimpse into Jackson's inner struggles. It also would've given Jackson an opportunity to show that she was opening up about her mental health at a time before it was something many celebrities did.
Instead, all we hear are select soundbites of Janet talking about being an emotional eater and sharing how Michael would lovingly tease her about her weight. She says that her husband at the time, Elizondo, would get on her case for her appearance as well.
These are no doubt significant issues that contributed to her state of mind at the time. However, it doesn't delve deep enough into the reality in order for the viewer to understand their impact on her.
The creative process behind her albums aren't explored either. Instead, we merely hear about the successful outcome of the records. While this is significant, it would've also been nice to hear a bit more about Jackson's journey creating each album, as they're all very personal.
The only creative process we're given a peek at comes when Janet and Michael are writing their duet, "Scream." It includes footage taken in Michael's New York City apartment where the two are working out lyric ideas. Janet is typing on a laptop as Michael tells her his ideas. It's incredible to witness both artists composing their one and only duet. It's also wonderful to see the loving teasing and joking that went on between them.
Janet also uses this moment to once again defend her brother. When asked if she ever believed the allegations of molestation, Janet said she never did and that Michael didn't have that in him. This is a powerful moment to include, especially in the wake of the 2019 "Leaving Neverland" film and the outrage that followed.
Janet also shared a video taken during a meeting with the Coca-Cola company. The company wanted to feature Janet in a commercial, particularly to compete with her brother Michael's deal with Pepsi. Janet reveals that after the allegations were made against Michael, Coca-Cola decided not to go through with the deal.
Another issue the documentary suffers from is the editing. For starters, many of the dates in the title cards are incorrect. For example, Michael and Janet wrote "Scream" in 1994, not 1993. Janet's music video "Made For Now" was shot in 2018, not 2019. It's a minor flaw, but it really does the film a disservice as researching is so easy now.
There was also a scene where Jermaine Dupri recalls first meeting Janet. He says they met at one of her concerts where he saw her backstage afterwards. It immediately cuts to a clip where he says that's when they started dating. The problem is, this isn't true.
Jermaine met Janet backstage at the "Rhythm Nation Tour" in 1990. This is when Janet was engaged to Rene. She didn't start dating Jermaine until the early 2000's. I don't think Jermaine lied, rather, he's the victim of a very bad editing choice.
This was another opportunity for the documentary to engage the viewer emotionally. Janet has previously said that Jermaine praised her body when she gained weight during their relationship. She has said that he made her feel comfortable with her body. Since she mentioned how critical Rene was in this area, it would've made sense to explain how Jermaine was so different. But, alas, it didn't make it into the film.
Certain moments left out of the film are understandable. For example, we don't hear about Jackson's last marriage or see her son. This is most likely due to legal situations regarding their divorce. It could also be a result of Jackson wanting to respect her son's privacy and not speak ill of his father.
However, you'll get answers if you read between the lines. Randy Jackson gave an interview to People Magazine in September 2017. This was around the same time they were filming the scenes on tour. In the interview, Randy claimed the marriage became verbally abusive during Jackson's pregnancy. Randy also said Janet felt like a prisoner in her own home.
What the documentary does include is the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show fallout. Randy is seen telling Janet that Justin Timberlake has asked her to join his own Super Bowl halftime show. Janet rejects the offer, claiming she doesn't want to bring up the past. This serves as the foundation for the documentary to delve into what happened over a decade ago.
The film goes into the incident and the fallout, including Janet being uninvited to the Grammys. However, these are mostly discussed by Jackson's friends and co-workers. Janet gives occasional soundbites during her talk with Randy, like her revelation that she advised Justin to keep quiet after the fact. The alleged MTV blacklist is also not discussed, except to show a newspaper headline which mentions it on screen very briefly.
It would've been more impactful if Janet herself spoke more about the fallout. It would've been even better if Janet fully explained the process in putting that performance together and what was truly meant to happen. But we get no explanation on her part. Instead, we see a video shot this month on Janet's phone in Miami. In the video, she says her and Justin are very good friends and spoke just a few days ago. Janet also calls on everyone to stop looking for someone to blame and insists they both have moved on.
The bad news is that the Super Bowl incident will likely continue to be talked about for a very long time. It could've been put to rest if Janet detailed her plans and how the moment came to be, as that is the source of much speculation. The good news is that she has finally cleared up whether she and Justin are on good terms. Even though hateful trolls will continue their venom on social media, they can no longer claim to spread it on Jackson's behalf.
The other positive aspect to the way Janet handled the Super Bowl fallout here is that she didn't play the victim. This helped her appear much stronger than how The New York Times documentary handled her story.
The film nears its end by including Janet's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This is an important moment, as its an extremely high honor and Janet is very deserving of it. It also allows the documentary to round off by showcasing the impact and accomplishments of Janet's career. This includes praises from fellow artists like Missy Elliot, Ciara, and Mariah Carey.
While the film wasn't perfect, it was still very enjoyable for fans. It probably should've been released to Netflix or Paramount Plus. There would've been more room that was instead occupied by incessant commercial breaks. The film ends with a preview of a new Janet song called "Luv I Luv." In 2020, Janet planned to release a new album, "Black Diamond," and go on tour. While both projects were halted due to the pandemic, one can only hope this means we'll finally see them come to fruition in 2022.