Lifetime, the network with the most over-the-top movies (usually involving someone doing some wrong and paying the price or a mother's quest to find/help her child), is taking on a biopic of Aaliyah's life called Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, set to premiere on Saturday night. This is yet another biopic they are tackling, after films about Anna Nicole Smith, Brittany Murphy, and the cast of Saved By The Bell, among many others. The biggest concern about these movies has to be accuracy, because it's easy to take liberties with a story when you're trying to make a dramatic movie that keeps viewers' attention. So how accurate is Lifetime's Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B? Considering all of the troubles that have plagued the film, it seems the film is "unauthorized" for good reason.
In order to keep up my journalistic standards, I must reveal something. I am a huge Aaliyah fan. I love her music, I love her movies (Yes, even Queen of the Damned was entertaining), and I was quite upset when she passed away. So when I heard Lifetime was making this film without approval from Aaliyah's family, the red flags that arose in my head after its initial announcement felt justified. And that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the issues that plagued the film.
As many of you probably already know, Alexandra Shipp, who plays Aaliyah, was not the network's first choice for the film. Pop star and actress Zendaya originally signed on for the film but dropped out after only a few months. Her reason? She felt uncomfortable going against the wishes of Aaliyah's family, among the many other problems the production went through during her time as lead. Both are obviously solid reasons for exiting a project.
Music Rights & Family Issues
From the very start of the project, Lifetime had issues with Aaliyah's family's objections about the film. The NY Daily News reports that they liked the original script for the film entitled Aaliyah: More Than A Woman, but were upset they had not been consulted. They had also originally hoped that the movie would get a theatrical release, and not be produced as a TV movie. The president of Aaliyah's record company Blackground records, Jomo Hankerson, is Aaliyah's cousin and did not release rights for the music to be used on the film. Therefore, none of Aaliyah's actual music ended up in Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, instead just featuring Shipp singing covers. Above is Aaliyah performing "Got To Give It Up," originally recorded by Marvin Gaye, and you can also watch Shipp's version from the biopic.
Aaliyah's Relationship With R. Kelly
R. Kelly produced Aaliyah's first album and the two had a controversial relationship, with the young singer allegedly falsifying records so she could marry Kelly even though she was only 15. Kelly has long had controversy around him, not just for this reported issue, but also for the accusations of sexual assault and abuse of teenage girls that have been made against him. According to some critics, the movie washes over the overall uncomfortable nature of Kelly and Aaliyah's relationship and instead supposedly portrays the lovers in a Romeo and Juliet-style romance, though no details about the relationship itself have been publicly confirmed.
Images: Christos Kalohoridis/Lifetime; 1728-pierce-street/Tumblr