No official reason has been given as Zendaya Coleman steps down from being cast as Aaliyah in Lifetime’s biopic of the singer’s life. Coleman was cast on June 16, and controversy ensued with many fans questioning whether the 17-year-old Disney star is “black” enough to pull of the life story of the music star and actress who died in a tragic plane crash in 2001.
In response to criticism questioning her blackness, Coleman who has a white mother and black father shared with Splash News that it should not matter what color a person is as long as they can bring justice to the role and character. Coleman posted on Twitter that she was honored to have the chance to give tribute to Aaliyah who she has always viewed as a source of inspiration. In an interview with MTV she elaborated on her decision to pull out saying, Lifetime didn’t have things up to par and if she was going to take the role it would have to be done right. Coleman says she does not half-step when doing a job and her affinity towards the late Aaliyah means any involvement in a role has to be very well put together.
The biopic storyline has received criticism in areas that have nothing to do with Coleman. While speaking with New York Daily News, Aaliyah’s cousin agreed that it is not about Coleman. He maintains that his cousin was an icon and deserves recognition as such. He and other family members have expressed anger over plans for the biopic being made without their consent, in addition to their expectations that Aaliyah’s life not be reduced to a Lifetime movie. Disapproval likely has something to do with Aaliyah’s teen-age involvement with her then mentor turned husband R. Kelly, and the disgust of many over the sex tape that depicted Kelly urinating on a young teenage girl. At the very least, Lifetime should have asked for consent. Too much negative publicity may be a key reason in Zendaya deciding to step down from the Lifetime’s Aaliyah biopic.
Although Coleman is only seventeen, she speaks with confidence about her career and the roles she selects. She also has her entire career in front of her. What makes her decision to drop out after all the media publicity since being cast two weeks ago also speaks to Coleman’s integrity with her art.
Whether others agree with her decision or not, it seemed to be the right choice for her at the time. There are many aspects of Aaliyah’s career that will be called out regardless of who takes on the large job of playing her music and acting career. One thing the family may do is hold out for the big screen, the announcement from Lifetime caused a big enough stir to draw attention from larger stake holders with bigger purses. They may even believe Zendaya is a good choice for the role with another venue.
When news of Aaliyah’s crash happened in 2001, youth and young adults following her music were crushed. She had a light that was snuffed out all too soon. Coleman is right about a couple of things: Do not take a job for the sake of a paycheck and Aaliyah’s story deserves to be told with facts that celebrate who she was as an artist who was deeply loved. As Zendaya steps down from the Lifetime’s Aaliyah biopic there are sure to be other opportunities to keep her working.
Opinion By: C. Imani Williams