Update: According to Buzzfeed, Lifetime has halted production on the biopic.
Lifetime recently announced the development of a biopic about Aaliyah, with 17-year-old singer/actress Zendaya cast to play the late, great R&B singer. Tentatively titled Aaliyah: Princess of R&B, the film is based on Aaliyah: More Than a Woman, a 2001 book by music critic Christopher John Farley.
Almost immediately following Lifetime’s announcement, criticism emerged, namely from Aaliyah’s estate. In an open letter, the family wrote that because Aaliyah is an “American music icon whose legacy continues to live on and influence today’s music culture,” the family felt that 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.”
As TMZ reports, Lifetime never asked Aaliyah’s family for rights to her image or music, and the family is now in the process of seeking legal action to halt production. However, the family made it clear that their issues are solely with Lifetime, and not with any specific actors. “However, we do ask that you are respectful to the artist playing the role,” Aaliyah’s family wrote, “for they may not fully have or know the details about this role.”
In response to the criticism, Zendaya wrote on Twitter, “I’m just a 17 year old girl who got cast to play one of her biggest inspirations. She’s been an inspiration and influence in my whole career, her talent still shines brighter (than) ever, all I wanna do is honor her. She’s beautiful inside and there will never be another Aaliyah, I just hope to share her beautiful story, and make her proud up in heaven.”
However, after some back-and-forth between the two camps, Zendaya’s camp has confirmed to E! News that she has dropped out of the project. Officially, the exit stems from “production issues,” in addition to problems clearing Aaliyah’s music. According to a source close to the production, “Aaliyah has always been an inspiration to Zendaya. She was honored to portray her and pay tribute to her. If she is going to do it, she wants to do it right.”
Meanwhile, Lifetime wrote onTwitter, “We are sad Zendaya will no longer portray Aaliyah. Production is currently on hold.”