Selling Pain

Toni-Braxton-Unbreak-My-Heart

Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart premiered Saturday night on Lifetime. It would seem that whether an autobiography is authorized or unauthorized impacts the quality of the end product.

The movie did not hit many wrong notes. Having an authentic soundtrack and songstress Toni Braxton provide the voice over to her own life story grabbed the audience and never let go.

Braxtons-1994

Back in the day: Toni, 26 (c.) and her sisters (l. to r.), Towanda, 20; Trina, 19; Tamar, 16; and Traci, 22. (Toni’s brother Michael, Jr. is not pictured.)

As with any portrayal of people of color, at first blush, the obvious comparisons to complexion and any physical discrepancies are instantly recorded. Initially, with the longer hair and lighter complexion, it took a few pregnant seconds to pick Toni Braxton, portrayed by Lex Scott Davis, out of the sisterly line up—and another double take to spot Tamar, too (whom most of us thought had only become pigment-challenged in the last decade).

The moment Lex Scott Davis, as Toni Braxton, cut her locks was when the complete package was sold. Aside from being a giant in stature compared to Toni Braxton, who is petite, the shape of Davis’ face, the short waist, and walk embodied Toni Braxton’s persona. The lip syncing, however, could have been better. It was as if Lex Scott Davis was mouthing the words instead of singing along with the tracks.

Lex Scott Davis and Gavin Houston as Toni Braxton and Babyface

Lex Scott Davis and Gavin Houston as Toni Braxton and Babyface

The plot revealed how a talented family of singers, aspiring for all to succeed, were pushed to the background for a single star to rise. It explored the disharmony and the guilt Toni Braxton experienced throughout her career as The Chosen One.

The lovely Ms. Toni Braxton

The lovely Ms. Toni Braxton

The story also disclosed the hypocrisy that persists in the American pulpit. The Braxtons, known for singing gospel and a strong faith in God, had at the head of their household a not-so-reverend reverend whom their mother, a woman humiliated, was driven to divorce.

If you’re not in the music business, it will never make sense how an artist earning just a quarter and two nickels on a dollar could be expected to pay for their own concerts, promotions, wardrobes, jewelry, set production, guest talent, and everything falling in between. No wonder Toni Braxton fell into bankruptcy. Twice. The bankruptcies, to this day, seem to be a sore spot for Toni who never welcomed the stigma of being the typical wealthy singer whose lust for Gucci dinnerware thrusts her into the poor house.

A Bible-thumping hands-on mother . . . impatient siblings with stars in their eyes—to this day . . . a contract not fit for a dog, where expectations and responsibilities far outweigh the few resources to pay the many hands outstretched . . . bankruptcies . . . lawsuits . . . receiving troubling news about the health of a beloved child. Tugged and pulled in so many opposing directions, the stress of it all would cause the heart and marriage of the strongest among us to fail.

Happier times for Toni Braxton and Keri Lewis

Happier times for Toni Braxton and Keri Lewis

Aside from not learning anything new or exciting about the artist, there wasn’t much to poo poo about Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart. At times, Lex Scott Davis looked more like Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds—or his sibling—than Babyface himself. Although Gavin Houston has a stockier build than the eternally frail Babyface, from the actor’s voice to his demeanor, he channeled the singer and master songwriter well. It was great to see the chemistry between Toni Braxton and Babyface captured on screen.

The “love” between Babyface, L.A. Reid, and Toni Braxton during the lawsuit regarding Toni’s lopsided contract was clearly exaggerated to preserve the shine on reputations. What Pebbles (L.A. Reid’s then wife) did to R&B sensation TLC was done to Toni Braxton. The ratchet contract is no fluke. It is commonplace in the music industry.

But even when the storyline smudged the lines of truth, performances—even caricatures—were believable, from the older and ever outrageous Tamar portrayed by Tiffany Hines to Debbi Morgan who portrayed the (foaming-at-the-mouth mad) Braxton matriarch. You may recall Debbi Morgan from All My Children and Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou.

Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart was directed by Ms. Lemmons’ husband Vondie Curtis Hall and executive produced by Toni Braxton. 

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Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, or Aaliyah:

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