Sunday, June 16, 2024

Review: Janet Jackson Finally Reveals the Story of Her “Secret” Child in Disarming, Well Told Documentary


Janet Jackson — if you didn’t already love her, you really will after you watch the A&E documentary set for Friday and Saturday night.

The doc is in four parts, two parts each night. The press only received the Friday pieces. I think they’re holding the Saturday stuff for real time review because it includes info about the Justin Timberlake Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction.

The real meat of the Friday night episodes is all about Janet’s private life– her first two marriages, and the story of her “secret” child.

No surprise here: there was no secret child. But rumors have always followed Janet that she gave birth to a child fathered by first husband James DeBarge. It wasn’t true, Janet assures us, and so does her sister Rebbie (pronounced Reebie).

What we do get from the Friday night segments are Janet unplugged, especially candid about her late father, Joseph, who was physically abusive and “mean” to all the kids. He drove them to stardom by being unsparing. Eventually they all left him, and he spent the rest of his life trying to get back in. In rare home videos and long unseen interviews, the look of unhappiness on all the kids’ faces when they were young and his sway is shocking. It’s no wonder things worked out so badly for Michael, and for many of the others.

Janet says she really didn’t want to be a performer or singer. She says she wanted to go to Pepperdine University and study business law. Her father simply told her that wasn’t happening, and she would go straight in the family business.

What’s clear if you know the Jacksons’ story is that Janet wanted to get out that house in Encino ASAP. Sister Rebbie left at 18 to get married and have kids. Janet was trapped by the business. But she did a similar thing. At 16, she married James DeBarge to get away from her father. The problem, she says, was that DeBarge was using drugs starting on their honeymoon when he disappeared on the first night. It only got worse from there. And as she she indicates tearfully, she was really in love with him. Their marriage only lasted a year. (I don’t know why anyone thought she could have fit a pregnancy and childbirth in there, too.)

Janet’s second marriage, to Rene Elizondo Jr, is in the second part of Friday’s showing. We won’t find out until Saturday why that marriage fell apart, but it’s interesting that both of the marriages had elopements or secret weddings. Janet wanted to make sure her father didn’t derail her plans. The second part on Friday night also chronicles the making of her “Control” album with the ever affable Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis. So far unmentioned in this part of the saga is John McClain, a family friend who was working at A&M Records and guided Janet’s recording career. He is now the co-executor of Michael Jackson’s estate.

As far as Michael Jackson goes, there’s some nice home movie footage. Janet concedes that their close relationship fractured after “Thriller.” And Michael was not much help in launching her career. Indeed, Michael– as Bob Jones outlined in his book (whether fans like it or not) — did not want his brothers and sisters to succeed. That Janet did is really her greatest triumph.

Great work by

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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