Zendaya was thought to be the right choice to play Aaliyah. The project is still in, but Zendaya’s out.
Zendaya and Lifetime Network, the project creators, have confirmed that the 17-year-old pop songstress and actress has left the project, according to Entertainment Weekly. “We are sad Zendaya will no longer portray Aaliyah. Production is currently on hold,” Lifetime’s Public Relations team announced via Twitter.
Zendaya’s departure ends a tumultuous beginning to the biopic. When Zendaya, star of Disney’s Shake It Up! and contestant on Dancing With The Stars, was chosen for the role, an immediate backlash from both Aaliyah’s fans and family ensued, according to the Los Angeles Times. Fans thought that Zendaya, who is biracial, was too light-skinned to play the role, starting online petitions wanting her ouster.
Said Debra Martin Chase, executive producer of the biopic, “She ‘s biracial, but she identifies as black. She (Zendaya) has a very strong black father. It’s very narrow and short-sighted. It’s not the world we live in today. And she, like you, like all of us, encompasses all her cultural experiences and heritage. And most importantly, she (Zendaya) physically resembles her.”
Aaliyah’s family, however, was disappointed with Lifetime.
Jomo Hankerson, Aaliyah’s cousin and president of her record label, Blackground Records, said “It’s never been about the actress (Zendaya). The problem that we have is that Aaliyah was an icon and she deserves an iconic tribute, not a Lifetime movie. We want a major studio release along the lines of ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It,’ the Tina Turner movie,” Hankerson said. “This needs A-list actors, A-list talent that can breathe life into what we think is a phenomenal story.”
Zendaya’s family was upset, as well, but because they weren’t contacted first about the role, and felt Zendaya’s first movie project should be bigger than a Lifetime project.
Zendaya, whose full name is Zendaya Coleman, later stated in a Hollywood Life interview at the BET awards that production felt rushed. “Basically, I just felt that because I love her, and because I respect her so much as an artist, I don’t want to do anything that’s half or anything that’s less for her,” Zendaya said.
“I felt like some things with the production weren’t all the way there, the project wasn’t all the way there. If I’m going to do something for someone I care about so much, I have to do it the right way,” Zendaya added.