Lifetime Casts Disney Star Zendaya as Aaliyah in TV Biopic


Urban blogs and social media were set ablaze on Monday with thoughts and opinions on the news of the latest dead R&B singer to be featured with a Lifetime original movie. Executives at the female skewed network have just announced a biopic about the late Aaliyah set to star recording artist and Disney darling Zendaya.

Reviews have run the spectrum since word was officially announced that singer and actress Zendaya will portray the highly revered singer dubbed the “Princess of R&B.”  Aaliyah, who had accomplished so much in her short career, died tragically in 2001 at the age of just 22 when her private plane crashed off the shores of the Bahama Islands following production wrap of a video shoot. According to reports, Zendaya will portray the young superstar’s life from her early start in the entertainment industry which began with an appearance on the talent show Star Search at the age of nine, to chart-topping success in the music industry. There is no word yet on whether the film will touch on Aaliyah’s brief and controversial marriage to R&B singer R. Kelly while a minor at the age of 15. Their marriage was subsequently annulled and neither reportedly ever spoke about it in the press.

While multi-talented in her own right, and while the opportunity to portray the life of a very young and successful musical superstar like Aaliyah appears to be the perfect star vehicle for a performer like Zendaya, some have questioned just how much authenticity the  star of Disney Channel’s Shake It Up will impart on the memory of one of R&B’s most beloved fallen stars of the early 2000’s.  Long before Beyonce and Rihanna, Aaliyah was the musical artist young women looked to and identified with.  To her credit, Zendaya  at only 17-years-old and  just like Aaliyah, has a perceived sweet image and has been on the fast track to success. Since her time with Disney Channel ended in 2013, Zendaya has been busy building her brand and joined the cast of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, placing in the semi-finals. Musically, she released an album that held a prominent spot on the Billboard 200 charts and released a single called Replay that went platinum. Much of the criticism questions whether Zendaya will have any degree of “swag” or “street edge.” These qualities were synonymous with Aaliyah and perfectly juxtaposed her beauty and allure.

The television project tentatively titled Aaliyah: Princess Of R&B is based on the biographical book by Christopher John Farley called Aaliyah: More Than A Woman. Debra Martin Chase (The Princess Diaries, Sparkle) is among those listed as producers. This is Lifetime’s second announced project featuring late R&B singers to make their respective debuts in 2015. Not willing to let the dead rest in peace, Lifetime has also recently announced plans to produce a biopic on the life of R&B and pop icon Whitney Houston currently titled  I Will Always Love You: The Whitney Houston Story. The Houston project will  have actress Angela Bassett making her directorial debut and starring actress and America’s Next Top Model runner-up Yaya DaCosta.

It is speculated that Lifetime is taking strong notes from rival network VH1, which found immense ratings success last year with Crazy, Sexy, Cool: The TLC Story. The popular VH1 effort was a biopic on the tumultuous journey and success of the popular girl group of the 90’s, TLC. It appears Lifetime is looking to snatch its own share of profits off of the names and stories of dead urban female musicians.

Opinion by Hal Banfield

Indie Wire