Cissy Houston and Dionne Warwick
Documenting Dionne Warwick's Legacy
A filmmaker puts his all into a doc on the singer and social activist.
Dionne Warwick was interviewed at length for Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over, which premieres January 1 on CNN. But the eighty-one-year-old icon had no say in how the documentary was made.
In fact, she didn't even see it until it was completed, which I truly respect," says first-time filmmaker Dave Wooley, who wrote, produced and directed the film. "I wouldn't have done it any other way." David Heilbroner (Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland) is also a director for the film.
Wooley, who has years of experience producing sporting and music events, says Warwick trusted him to tell her story because they have known each other for more than three decades and have collaborated on various projects, including her 2010 autobiography, which he cowrote. While working on that book, Wooley started visualizing a film.
"I wanted people to learn about the legacy of this woman. Dionne was more than just a hitmaker," he says of the six-time Grammy winner.
To that end, Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over, edited by Steve Perry, celebrates a music career that spans decades of hits like "Don't Make Me Over," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Walk on By," "I'll Never Love This Way Again," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," "Déjà Vu" and "Heartbreaker." At the same time, the film dives into the activism of a woman who dared to stand up to racism while touring the Jim Crow South in the 1960s and, as a vocal AIDS activist in the 1980s, famously got President Ronald Reagan to utter the term AIDS at a press conference.
Bill Clinton, Burt Bacharach, Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg and Alicia Keys are among the celebrities who speak in the film about Warwick's contributions to music and societal change.
Wooley showed Warwick the finished film (which took five years to make) at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where she began her storied career. Despite their long history, Wooley recalls that his palms were sweating.
He was relieved and honored at the end of the screening when Warwick told him she loved the film. "She used a term that's used in the African-American community often. She said, 'Dave, you put your foot in that,'" Wooley says. "That meant the world because I put every part of my body, every part of my soul into making this film."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #12, 2022, under the title, "Body and Soul."