Two weeks, ago Lifetime announced that Disney star Zendaya Coleman would play the lead role in its biopic chronicling the life of R&B star Aaliyah Haughton.
The new Lifetime movie is supposed to be based on the best-seller Aaliyah: More Than a Woman, by former Time magazine music editor Christopher Farley. So far it has a working title of Aaliyah: Princess of R&B, but now, no lead actress.
Zendaya is “no longer involved” in the project, a rep for the actress confirmed to E! News. Citing production issues and problems including obtaining rights to Aaliyah’s music, the movie seems to be off to a bumpy start.
When news broke about the biopic, Aaliyah’s family vowed to sue the network and wanted nothing to do with the movie. In an interview with The Ryan Cameron Morning Show, Jomo Hankerson, Aaliyah’s cousin and president of her record label, Blackground Records, said the family felt Aaliyah’s story deserved a larger venue than a television network. Hankerson also said the family was blindsided by the Lifetime movie.
“This Lifetime thing came out of the blue. We saw it when the press release was released when everybody else did. I think going forward, we will have that conversation because I think that, notwithstanding whatever they do, I know there’s going to be things that they don’t cover because they just don’t have the knowledge to cover it,” Hankerson stated.
Zendaya was also met with criticism about portraying Aaliyah because of the lack of resemblance, especially when it came to skin color and ethnicity. Despite being half-black and close to Aaliyah’s complexion, many felt that the role should have gone to an actress who wasn’t mixed, since Aaliyah wasn’t. This prompted Zendaya and her father to clap back at those critics. “Half-black is just enough. It doesn’t matter what color you are; it’s how you portray the character,” Zendaya stated. With her father, Kazembe Ajamu, also chiming in, stating that Zendaya planned on tanning and getting darker in the summer.
As of Monday, Lifetime has not released information on Zendaya’s replacement or if the movie is going forward with production.
Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.