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Alexandra Shipp Will Replace Zendaya in Lifetime's Aaliyah Biopic + Wendy Williams Joins As Exec Producer

by Tambay A. Obenson
July 18, 2014 11:58 AM
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Alexandra Shipp
Alexandra Shipp

The above tweet is from Wendy Williams who has apparently signed on to executive produce Lifetime's Aaliyah biopic. As you can see, she also reveals that Alexandra Shipp has been cast in the title role, replacing the exiting Zendaya, who was initially cast to play the late songstress in the project.

It was just 3 weeks ago when the announcement of Zendaya's casting was made, so exit seemed a bit sudden. The 17-year-old, as I posited, may have also been partly influenced by some of the criticism the project received after her casting was announced; specifically, Aaliyah's family has been vocal about their opposition to a small screen adaptation for Aaliyah's story, wanting a feature film made for the big screen instead, with *name* actors.

"We want a major studio release along the lines of 'What's Love Got to Do with It,' the Tina Turner movie... This needs A-list actors, A-list talent that can breathe life into what we think is a phenomenal story," said Jomo Hankerson, Aaliyah's cousin and president of her label, Blackground Records.

Certainly Alexandra Shipp isn't exactly an A-list actor, is she? So one can only assume that the family still won't be pleased with this casting announcement.

Also worth noting, the family is outraged because they were not consulted for the film, and they promised to block Lifetime from acquiring any rights to Aaliyah's songs.

Let's see whether Aaliyah's family's vehement and vocal opposition to the project, as well as backlash from fans of Aaliyah, over the project's casting, are also of influence on Shipp's decision to take on the role.

Shipp is most notable for her role as KT Rush on the show "House of Anubis." She has also appeared on "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," "Switched at Birth," and "Victorious." She most recently booked the lead role in the upcoming "Drumline" sequel set up at VH1, "Drumline 2: A New Beat."

Based on the bestseller "Aaliyah: More Than a Woman" by former Time Magazine music editor Christopher Farley, the Lifetime Original Movie is to be filmed this summer to be premiered in the Fall.

Howard Braunstein ("The Informant!") and Debra Martin Chase ("The Princess Diaries," "Sparkle") were serving as executive producers.  

Bradley Walsh ("Turn the Beat Around") was to direct from a script written by Michael Elliot ("Brown Sugar").

RELATED: At Your Best: The Cinematic Potential of Aaliyah's Life and Music

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    


  • Dee | August 11, 2014 8:10 PMReply

    Let's not forget the outrage that followed the casting of an African American Annie (fictional character). I think that it's only fair to accurately portray Aaliyah the way that she identified herself. For one, because she is non fictional.... Real...
    I don't see anything wrong with choosing a bi-racial African American female such as Shipp to play the role of Aaliyah ... I mean are we really set that far back that we resort to calling each other half breeds etc. bc most of us ( American born Africans decedents of the American slave trade) are mixed somewhere down the generational line.

  • christinaM | July 21, 2014 9:01 PMReply

    I dont see anything wrong with zendaya playing aaliyah. She may look latino but she isnt. And if she was it shouldnt matter its all about who fits the role being played. Personally i think american idol preformer Lisa Tucker is better for the role of aaliyah. She looks like Aaliyah identical twin and she has a beautiful voice.

  • Mike | July 20, 2014 12:40 PMReply

    The Latin singer Selena had a movie made about her life and she was only 23 when she died. Jennifer Lopez played Selena in the movie and it was Jennifer Lopez's big break. Now this wasn't a big budget movie, but small budget movie that Selena's family was involved in. It turned out very well and was released in theaters. I don't know why so many Black women are settling for CRAPPY NETWORKS like VH1 and Lifetime?

    TLC told their story on VH1. You had the biggest selling girl group in music and they settle on VH1 to tell their story.

    Aaliyah is being told on Lifetime. Why can't they do what Selena's family did and tell her story on the big screen?

    The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin is willing to tell her story on Lifetime. Here is a LEGEND and she is willing to settle for the small screen to tell her larger than life story. Disappointing!

    Let me just say that:
    Oscar Grant (Fruitvale Station)
    Ray Charles (Ray)
    Idi Amin (The Last King of Scotland)
    Paul Rusesabagina (Hotel Rwanda)
    Christopher Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness)
    Jackie Robinson (42)
    Solomon Northup (12 Years A Slave)
    The Tuskegee Airmen (Red Tails)
    Malcolm X (Malcolm X)
    James Brown (Get On Up)

    These movies weren't made for television. Some of them were independent films and released in limited theaters, but they all got the BIG SCREEN TREATMENT!

  • Melanie | July 20, 2014 9:24 PM

    Interesting that all of those movies mentioned feature Black men. The question is why. I think it is a telling tale.

    Just reading this article and the idiotic comments on race instead of sexism and colorism in the NWA article lets me know just how far off the mark most of us are. (Jennifer's comment below notwithstanding)

  • Uvo | July 20, 2014 11:35 AMReply

    @Jennifer. Your statement about the only black women who look like Aliyah being biracial or multigenerational mixed black women is not accurate. I have lived in Nigeria all my life and there are people here, very few though, who are light skinned with aquiline features that have no white DNA. There also those who are extremely dark skinned with 'slim' noses and thin lips. It is quite ridiculous how so many people across the world are ignorant about the variety in the way black Africans look and assume that certain features belong to whites or those with some white genes.

    I had a neighbour a few years back who complexion and features wise could have been Aliyah's sister; only difference was that she had fuller lips. This lady is a full blooded Nigerian. There are others like her who are way lighter than Aliyah was. Of course, I am not American, have never been in your country so maybe your statement might hold true for you guys in the US. I doubt that very much though.

  • Cherise | July 19, 2014 9:48 PMReply

    Congratulations to @AlexShipppp much better choice for the Aaliyah biopic! Casting was tripping before with @Zendaya!!!

  • Jennifer | July 19, 2014 1:47 PMReply

    Argh!!! Aaliyah was NOT a dark skinned woman. She was a mixed-race African-American. Why is it so hard to deal with reality for some people.

    Why do people want to pretend that many black Americans don't have some mixed ancestry? Aaliyah was obviously mixed-race. Look at a picture of her with golden brown skin and her slim nose. No one in Ghana would think her a native-born woman of pure ancestry.

    From Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York.[1] Born of African American descent, with Oneida heritage from her grandmother,[2][3] she was the second and youngest child of Diane and Michael Haughton.[2]

    ONEIDA <----That's a Native American nation. Aaliyah's grandma was Native American.

    This was Aaliyah: (Ugh! Couldn't include a link to Wikipedia pic of Aaliyah).

    Why embrace the ignorance? The only women who look like Aaliyah are biracial or multigenerational mixed black women.

    Why do all the major DNA surveys of black Americans show that they have some non-black (usually white) ancestry?

    I understand anger at casting people who look nothing like the original to play a role because the actor appeases racist mainstream notions. But, what's next? Are we going to claim that Lena Horne wasn't mixed??

  • Thatzlife | July 23, 2014 11:03 PM

    Just sit down Jenifer. She was African American and that is how she identified herself. She never went around saying she was mixed. So why are YOU doing that!
    One thing I hate are people trying to always make a person mixed, when even that person doesn't indentify themselves that way!

  • Bee | July 19, 2014 1:28 PMReply

    This is truly disgusting. Wendy didn't even know aaliyah and neither did the casting director or producers. This is pure disrespect. Life time wants to profit off her and it's a shame. Her family hasn't been consulted which is not cool. Alexandra this movie isn't going to do what Selena did for jlo for you. We don't mess with u

  • lilk | July 18, 2014 6:45 PMReply

    ugh why is wendy williams anywhere near this story?
    i agree w the haughton family blocking the movie since they arent involved or consulted. But Aaliyah's life is not AT ALL comparable to Tina Turner! Tina went from nutbush as anna to the world stage as Tina. She endured raped, abused, discrimination.
    What adversity did Aaliayh face? Aaliyah was just 22 when she died so 2hrs is worthy.

    if the music rights are secured will the movie be made.

  • Up In The Balcony | July 18, 2014 4:11 PMReply

    DISGUSTING!!!... "What... lose your EBT card?"
    "Can't find your pee-pee?"
    "nope, that's not it"
    "Then spit it out... you're making me sick looking at your sad a$$"

    ** After Lifetime's annoucement that Alexandra Shipp will replace Zendaya in their Asliyah biopic, Mr Black Waldorf has fallen into a very funky state. His friend up in the balcony, Mr. Black Statler, is trying his best to bring him back to life**

    Statler: Come on buddy, you can lean on me... I won't tell nobody, so what's happenin'?

    W: Well, some of these silly negros are pissing me off
    "Who,when, where and why?"
    "Come on, don't front, look at those hatin' a$$ negros with their eyes ablaze with The Devil's Eye Syndrome"
    "UT OH! You mean to tell me they're juding this young actress by the means Andre Seewood spoke of?"
    "HELLO!... scripture time "let he without sin..."
    "I get it. Hypocrites galore, huh?"
    "EXACTLY! They cry colorism and woe is we... and then, straight from their stupid mouthes comes "Oh no, we're being violated by a mixed race woman!"
    "Yeah... and let me help you say it... "GTFOOH... WITH THAT BULLSH*T!!!"
    "That's right, their ignorant ass*s ain't trolling white film blogs throwing rotten apples"
    "You're right, I bet some of these fools donatated to that Zach guy's kickstarter campaign"
    "Yeah, and did you see that pitiful excuse for a comedy film?"
    "Plzzzzz, I rather fart in a paper sack and put it over my head than spend my money on that"
    "So what advice would you give the chanting lost negros, below?"
    "It's simple... "Hey y'all, stop playing yourselves. And, Visine will not cure your Devil's Eye Syndrome, you'll have to come back to the mothership"
    "That's it?"
    "Its that simple"
    "Then drop the mic"

    **Waldorf drops the mic and goes back to sleep**

  • Up In The Balcony | July 19, 2014 4:01 PM

    "WHY EMBRACE THE IGNORANCE?" " WOW! Hell has no fury like a woman scorned"
    "There you go again... talkin' outta the side of your neck. Jennifer (above) wasn't scorned"

    Statler & Waldorf were again nudged from their sleep by the chaos of a few... well... keep reading...

    "Okay, but Jennifer did not studder, stammer nor mince her words. She gave "some folks" the hot shot"
    "Sho did... if there was a law against setting people straight, she'd be up for murder"
    "Stop it, you're killin' me to even think about that slaughter. But man... when she hit us with that "Wikipedia" and "anchestry" thang, I damn near died. I know those truths pissed some folks straight off"
    "That reminds me, what did you think about Bee's objections?"
    "Well, I'll just repeat what Jennifer said "Why embrace the ignorance?"
    "Damn man, that's cold"
    "Cold my a$$... I mean, in Bee's opinion Wendy Williams, the casting director and producers have to personally "KNOW" the subject before... before-they-can-do-what?"
    "Yep, I have to agree... that's nonsense. Did the producers of the award winning film "Lincoln" know Abraham Lincoln? Did Ava Duvanay know Martin Luther King?"
    "So, I guess we're done"
    "Nope, one last thing... "Hey Jennifer... giiiiirl, you killed this one. HIP HIP HOORAY, keep coming our way!"

  • Amari Sali | July 18, 2014 3:47 PMReply

    After a certain point, I guess all you can do is hope for the best. Maybe this maybe like "All By My Side" where the family may not support it, but it is decent despite their objections and will generate enough interest for an authorized biopic.

  • Brit | July 18, 2014 3:03 PMReply

    Smdh, where did they find this girl because she looks NOTHING like Aaliyah. And as far as I know I really don't know about this movie. At least Zendaya could dance and sing so if they can't use Aaliyah's music than they are screwed lol.

  • TJ | July 18, 2014 2:16 PMReply

    But why... Zendaya would have been a better fit for Aaliyah's role. Everyone knows that Aaliyah is a dancer/singer and Zendaya is a perfect fit. When I heard that someone else that no one really knows is playing her I "died". What has she played on? What can she do? How will we benefit from her? I am just saying, if Zendaya doesn't fight for this role back then I know this Alexandra girl better be on point and not let my Idol look and seem like a piece of you know what.

  • Lovelier_Than_You | July 18, 2014 2:36 PM

    Word on the street is the Zendaya casting was a publicity stunt concocted by the network. She has a higher profile than this Alex woman most of us have never heard of and Zendaya was enlisted to raise awareness for the film and take the brunt of the backlash the producers were prepared for. They didn't just happen upon Alex since Zendaya dropped out weeks ago, she was the #1 choice all along.

    Zendaya was always intended to drop out but she got some free publicity out of it and some sympathy and since much of the backlash has died down Alex will not get as much scrutiny. A very calculated move by the network and Zendaya's team.

  • JT | July 18, 2014 12:57 PMReply

    No thanks.

  • lilk | July 18, 2014 6:49 PM

    @lovelier word on what street ?
    where did you hear that ? read that ?

  • LA | July 18, 2014 5:49 PM

    I don't think it was a stunt tbh, because Zendaya actually wanted to play her role model, and because of HATER saying she wasn't right for the part this she was lead to quitting! Don't just assume things because she famous

  • Cherokee rose | July 18, 2014 12:53 PMReply

    In other casting news the Sojurner Truth story is in the works with the titular character being played by Jennifer Lawrence.

    Many of you tried to gas light me the last time when I spoke up against the whitewashing/light washing in Hollywood. You kumbaya-ers fall back, especially after the NWA casting notice was released. Aaliyah was unmistakably black yet they insist on casting these ambiguous looking actresses and don't try and tell me she and Aaliayah were the same complexion because I can google image search to and they're not. Is it a wonder why our little brown girls have complexes and why skin bleaching is on the rise? SMDH

  • Barbara | July 19, 2014 1:19 PM

    I read on another site that this girl is Mulatto too. If only Mulattos are allowed to play Black women, only Mulatto MEN should play Black men. We should insist on fair play. No more Denzels, Don Cheadles, or that entire crew of NWA.

  • Boomslang | July 18, 2014 2:31 PM

    @cherokee rose . You are 2 years late . Sojournet has already been played by Jackeline Flemming a danish-black actress .
    In the case of Aaliyah I'd rather they cast Jennifair Lawrence , at this point it doesn't make a difference.

  • TrainerRed | July 18, 2014 12:31 PMReply


  • MsWilliamsWorld | July 18, 2014 12:02 PMReply


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