Should the Controversial Aaliyah Biopic Still Be Made Post-Zendaya?

Lifetime’s upcoming Aaliyah biopic has been put on hold after Zendaya Coleman, Disney actress and former Dancing With the Stars contestant, reportedly officially dropped out of the lead role. The cable channel confirmed the 17-year-old star’s departure from the project, tentatively entitled Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, on Sunday, just a couple of weeks after initially announcing her casting earlier this month.

“We are sad  Zendaya will no longer portray Aaliyah. Production is currently on hold,” the network’s PR team wrote on its Twitter feed this past weekend. Meanwhile, a rep for Coleman confirmed the decision to E! News, stating, “Zendaya is no longer involved in the project.” The movie was initially set to start filming this summer and slated to air sometime in the fall. But according to E!, the film, based primarily off Christopher Farley’s best selling biography Aaliyah: More Than a Woman, has already run into multiple production problems, including issues with obtaining the rights to Aaliyah’s music.

Coleman’s exit doesn’t bode well for the film, which is still in early stages but has already stirred up its fair share of controversy. The young actress was subject to some public backlash after the initial announcement of her casting. Fans reportedly thought she was “too light-skinned” to play the late R&B star.

At the time, Coleman defended herself against the critics by telling TMZ, “A lot of people say I’m not black enough. Half black is just enough. It doesn’t matter what color you are, it’s about how you portray the character.”
Family members of Aaliyah, who died at the age of 22 in a 2001 plane crash, also reportedly reacted negatively to news of the project. They released the following statement, expressing their dissatisfaction with the film:

Considering the magnitude of her fans’ affection alone, she deserves to have a tribute much more grand than a television network debut that won’t even consider the perspectives of those who were closest to Aaliyah. Disregarding the families and dishonoring the legacies of celebrated figures who have passed on, big networks want to exploit their stories for a buck. We’re here to make it clear that it’s not okay!

Since dropping the role, Coleman’s team has also released a statement on her official Twitter account. “Aaliyah has always been a source of inspiration to Zendaya. She was honored to portray her and pay tribute to her,” it read. “If she is going to do it, she wants to do it right.” The singer also posted a side-by-side photo image of her and Aaliyah, both on stage and wearing similar outfits of baggy white pants and black crop tops.

There’s no word yet on when production on the film will start again or when the role will be recast. But given the criticism already surrounding the biopic, it seems to be more of a question of if this film should be made, rather than when. If the project does continue, it’s safe to say whoever does replace Coleman in the role will have a tough job on their hands — both in trying to get the project back on track and proving to all of Aaliyah’s longtime fans that this film will do her justice and be worth watching.

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