On Friday, July 18, talk show maven Wendy Williams celebrated her fiftieth birthday. However, it was she who managed to surprise many when she revealed that she had signed on as an executive producer for the anticipated, yet controversial, biopic on the life of late singer, Aaliyah. Production of the movie had been on hold since June when actress Zendaya Coleman dropped out from playing the title role. She decided to step down following many complaints from both Aaliyah’s fans, as well as the family of the We Need a Resolution songstress. In tandem with Williams taking charge of the movie, she also shared that a new actress had been hired to play Aaliyah, 23-year-old Alexandra Shipp, best known as a cast member of Nickelodeon’s House of Anubis.
The news was shared via her talk show The Wendy Williams Show. Her involvement does not seem to be completely surprising as she has talked incessantly about her interest in the film, expressing that she hoped the Haughton family would allow the movie to come to pass. Perhaps in an effort to save face and build up credit, Williams has done a bit of backtracking.
At some point before the telecast, all clips from Williams’ show where she discussed her opinion on the Aaliyah movie were removed from her YouTube channel. Just earlier this week, she expressed her desire to see more scandalous moments play out in the movie, such as the tale of the late singer’s alleged marriage to R&B star R. Kelly. Aaliyah was only 15 years old at the time of the supposed union. The only segment that remains on the channel regarding the movie is the one from Friday’s show.
There has been no word from the Haughton family regarding the news of Wendy Williams’ involvement with the biopic, although it seems as if their requests still are not being heard. The addition of Shipp is odd, because she has an even smaller resume than Coleman. At the very least, Coleman, unlike Shipp, is a musician in her own right. She released a self-titled album in 2013.
The Haughton family has repeatedly stated that they feel the story of Aaliyah deserves something bigger than a “made-for-TV” treatment. Aaliyah’s cousin and current head of her former record label, Jomo Hankerson, expressed that the family wanted a “major studio release” in order to properly honor her memory. “This needs A-list actors [and] A-list talent that can properly breathe life into what we think is a phenomenal story,” he said.
Due to their disdain with the initial hiring of Coleman, as well as not being told of the decision to make a movie, it was said that the Haughton family would not allow the production to use Aaliyah’s music. According to Wendy Williams, however, the usage of Aaliyah’s songs in the film is not important to tell the story properly. There has been no release date given regarding the airing of the movie. The announcement of Williams’ involvement can be seen below (around the 10:52 mark).
By Jonathan Brown