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Recording Artist Zendaya Cast to Play Aaliyah in Lifetime's Original Movie 'Princess of R&B'

by Tambay A. Obenson
June 16, 2014 4:25 PM
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Recording artist Zendaya has been cast to portray Aaliyah in a Lifetime Original Movie about the life of the actress and R&B sensation who, at the height of her stardom, tragically died in a plane crash.  

Based on the bestseller "Aaliyah: More Than a Woman" by former Time Magazine music editor Christopher Farley, the Lifetime Original Movie will be titled "Aaliyah: Princess of R&B" (although it's a working title), the first movie about the beloved artist, will be filmed this summer and premiere in the Fall.

Quite a fast turnaround!

Here's Lifetime's official synopsis for the film from the press release I received:

Before Beyonce and before Rihanna, self-proclaimed “street but sweet” Aaliyah was poised to become a global icon with top-selling albums, a hot movie career and an adoring fan base. But behind the spotlight, Brooklyn-born, Detroit-raised Aaliyah Dana Haughton struggled to succeed in a tough business while staying grounded in the midst of her growing celebrity. The film follows the beautiful and talented performer’s inspirational journey, from her debut on "Star Search" at the age of ten to the challenges she faced during her rise to become the Princess of R&B. On August 25, 2001, at the height of her popularity, her life was tragically cut short when a plane carrying the singer and some of her video crew crashed after takeoff from a Bahamian runway. Although just 22-years-old at the time of her death, Aaliyah continues to lead a legacy as Billboard’s tenth most famous R&B artist of the past 25 years and one of the recording industry’s most successful artists in history.

Platinum-selling artist Zendaya will record four of Aaliyah’s songs for the film, including many of her hit singles.

“Replay,” her first single from her self-titled 2013 debut full-length album, sold 1,000,000 copies in the U.S. this January, and the music video now has more than 54 million views on YouTube.  

The busy multi-hyphenate will also star in the upcoming Disney Channel Original Series "K.C. Undercover" and the Disney Channel Original Movie, "Zapped," which premieres this summer. She starred as Raquel “Rocky” Blue on the hit Disney Channel series "Shake It Up."

Zendaya was also the break out star and runner-up on Season 16 of "Dancing with the Stars."

Her casting comes on the heels of news that Yaya DaCosta Alafia has been cast to play Whitney Houston in another Lifetime biopic - that one directed by Angela Bassett, her directorial debut. Clearly Lifetime hopes to rip some ratings and profits from biopics on the lives of black musicians.

I should also note VH1's TLC biopic which was a hit for that network when it premiered last fall.

"Aaliyah:Princess of R&B" will be produced by Aaliyah Productions, Inc. Howard Braunstein ("The Informant!") and Debra Martin Chase ("The Princess Diaries," "Sparkle") will serve as executive producers.  

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

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  • importantissues | June 24, 2014 12:03 PMReply

    #BringBackOurGirls, enough said.

  • Ol' Skool | June 18, 2014 1:25 PMReply

    Oh lord, another "skin color" dispute in S&A's play ground.

    "You are all pathetic. It's all about skin tone with you isn't it."
    "Shame Shame Shame on you folks, always criticizing casting choices and acting ability based on skin color! It makes no matter what her complexion is! You people are WRONG"

    Well, I don't know about "you people" but Zendaya and this color issue is trending across America. That's right, Shadow and Act is merely an extension of the real black world. Miss Zendaya is the talk of the town. The Associated Press is talking about this "debate" and so is The Huff Post. In fact, a black woman, Kim Kane, just posted an article at Huff Post: Zendaya To Play Aaliyah In Lifetime Biopic: Does Color Matter? Google it and read it.

    Btw, Zendaya's daddy is a deep dark black man. So there's no doubt she is a black woman. Haters should shu fly, don't bother us.

  • amber megens | June 24, 2014 9:51 AM

    I think it's more of her skin tone matching completely. I look at zendaya and she's a beautiful girl but I just don't see Aaliyah. Their hair type doesn't match (which I'm sure a wig could help) but I just don't see it. Aaliyah was more street and zendaya doesn't really come off like that. But hey also look at it like this it's going to be on lifetime. Not a box office hit like Ray or Selena. So she's probably all they can afford.

  • chazzy | June 18, 2014 12:09 PMReply

    Can someone go to YouTube or Google a young lady by the name of Lolita Price.
    She is the spitting image of A aliyah. The only thing that bothers me with this is I don't think zendaya has he range really. Dance moves, sure...but there was something special when A aliyah sang. She just going to have to prove herself

  • Brandon | June 17, 2014 11:50 PMReply

    Aaliyah was as dark as night. Yáll didn't know? Anyway Yes, it's a tragedy that she died so young, but let's not pump her up like she was the second coming of MJ. geez.

  • SAD | June 17, 2014 11:43 PMReply

    You are all pathetic. It's all about skin tone with you isn't it. Sad.

  • Diana | June 17, 2014 11:39 PMReply

    Yall check out lolita price on YouTube. She is totally worth looking into. She looks like aaliyah. This chick doesn't compare to lolita. Pass the message along. Hopefully we can get the producers to cast someone who actually looks like her. My vote goes to lolita price!!!

  • Rachel | June 17, 2014 11:51 AMReply

    Some of you really need to seriously go GOOGLE Aaliyah so you can see what she really looked like. She was a beautiful "golden hue" American girl. This is NOT, no way, anything like the Nina Simone shit. Zendaya is barely "a shade" off. I think some folks are pissed because she's biracial and I have to say--and I never thought I'd say this--but your racist fangs are showing. I've practically agreed with 90% of the colorism issues posted on this site but one thing no one will say is that there seems to be constant "anti-light" shade almost ALWAYS on this blog. It's freakin' NUTS! I could understand not liking Zendaya if you were familiar with her acting AND dancing skills, but most of you don't know anything about her because she's been doing tv for kids! Seriously, you need to check her out. No doubt, she's a star in the making.

  • Rocket | June 17, 2014 5:01 PM

    Spot on. These comments would make one think Aaliyah was Seal's complexion. "Golden hue" is the best way to describe her skin tone. Never mind that fact that Aaliyah had a natural sex appeal to her the even older women couldn't replicate. Never mind the fact that Aaliyah mastered coming off as both coy and sexy at the same time. If there are any reasons to protest this young lady's casting those would be it. Aaliyah had a natural sensuality to her that is hard to capture. That is why she never had to parade around half naked like Riahnna and Beyonce. As a teenage boy at the time Aaliah ALWAYS got my attention.

    I'm not sure is some Disney-style actress and capture all that. Those are reasons to protest this choice. But skin tone is not a reason. People are just projecting their insecurities.

  • klee | June 17, 2014 9:37 AMReply

    Great choice, but Kylie Bunbury does resemble Aaliyah a lot more, just a darker shade.

  • Real One | June 17, 2014 12:49 AMReply

    Are they even serious? Just cause this kid made it on the Disney Channel does not mean she can even come close to reenacting the life of one of the greats of my time. Aaliyah was an original lost before her time should have been. To try and put this child in her place as a singer of greats is a joke. Way to go Lifetime. Just ruin another person's life story by putting in some hack performer who can barely sing.

  • troublemaker | June 17, 2014 12:37 AMReply

    Harpo, who dis girl?

  • Diana | June 17, 2014 11:47 PM

    Check out lolita price on YouTube. Now that's a real aaliyah look a like.

  • ROFL | June 17, 2014 6:52 AM

    OMG, that's the truth!

  • You people ought to be SHAME | June 16, 2014 10:42 PMReply

    Shame Shame Shame on you folks, always criticizing casting choices and acting ability based on skin color! It makes no matter what her complexion is! You people are WRONG.

    Everybody knows the only thing that matters is if she has a hot booty. Which I would assume she doesn't have, based on that light skin.

  • YOU PEOPLE OUGHT TO BE SHAME | June 17, 2014 11:45 PM

    True. I was trying to make a point that commenting on woman's skin color is as ridiculous as commenting on a woman's booty-- but of course most folks don't see it that way, I guess.

  • mark | June 17, 2014 7:47 AM

    I think he was trying to make a point about comments.... or not.

  • Geneva Girl | June 17, 2014 4:49 AM

    You ought to be ashamed by your sexist and colorist remark about her behind. And, you need to learn to spell.

  • Nikki | June 16, 2014 10:02 PMReply

    I don't necessarily know who Zendaya is or whether or not she's right for the role, but I've always considered Aaliyah to be of a lighter skin tone. Kerry Washington and Gabrielle Union are Brown. IMO. Let's be honest this is lifetime, so I don't think many people will take this seriously.

  • Nikki | June 17, 2014 11:38 PM

    LMAO, there is a picture of Beyoncé and Aaliyah side by side they are the same complexion.

  • Cherokee rose | June 17, 2014 11:45 AM

    I know it's been a while since she passed but to refresh your memory you may want to google image search Aaliyah. She was not light skin like Beyonce for example she was closer in skin tone to Kerry Wahington in fact. I don't understand all the comments saying she was light.

  • Ol' Skool | June 16, 2014 9:53 PMReply

    "Clearly Lifetime hopes to rip some ratings and profits from biopics on the lives of black musicians."

    And ratings and profit will be their reward. Listen, first and foremost, make no mistake about it... we're not talking well scripted high class drama... THIS IS The Lifetime Channel. Come on now, lets go back, remember that thang called "Betty & Coretta"? If you missed that blunder, how about that remake fiasco "Steel Magnolias"? What, you missed that too? Okay, one more... The Gabby Douglas Story. Yep, obviously we're not talking first class drama nor great acting. Come on now, from The Lifetime Channel's perspective, their mission, as stated above is ratings and profit... nuff said, close the door. In other words, black folk's money spends real good :-)

    Hey, I joke but I'm serious, all things considered, Zendaya is a perfect choice. She has the resume, the exposure and the right look (who cares about light-brown skin vs a deep chocolate skin tone?) and this role will not require the skills of a seasoned first class professional. I mean, A-Listers need not apply.

    Now don't get me wrong, there are those among us who love-love-love over-the-top soap opera-ish affair. Yum-YUM, they eat it up. So settle down folks b/c this is going to happen and all the "right" folks will be happy.

  • Ol' Skool | June 17, 2014 2:07 PM

    "Granted Lifetime does better quality than Tyler Perry, but that's not saying much"

    ...and that's a matter of opinion. Well, it would behoove one to define their definition of "quality". The devil's in the details. For starters, there's no doubt Tyler's productions have included most of today's top black actors. Now, I don't believe I have to list them - do I? Well, anyway, I can't say the same for Lifetime movies - can you?

    So, again... "Lifetime does better quality than Tyler Perry" - how so?

  • Martin | June 17, 2014 11:38 AM

    Right, every time I read "Lifetime movie" or "VH1 movie" I already know how it's going to work out. A one hour "movie" with another hour of ads? Terrible writing, editing, directing, casting, and *whispers* acting? No thanks, I'll pass. Granted Lifetime does better quality than Tyler Perry, but that's not saying much.

  • Cherokee rose | June 16, 2014 8:23 PMReply

    No just no. I like Zendaya, she seem like a sweet kid but this really does feel like the Nina Simone saga all over again. Aaliyah was a beautiful brown woman, as it really that hard to cast an actress who didn't look like Selena Gomez's little sister? And to those saying Keisha Chante...ugh no. She's not even an actress and frankly doesn't look like Aaliyah to me. Kylie Bunbury would have made a little more sense to me.

  • other song | June 17, 2014 1:33 AM

    "Kylie Bunbury would have made a little more sense to me." Good suggestion.

  • Beemooree | June 16, 2014 7:03 PMReply

    Zendaya is a poor choice. How about an unknown or Keshia chante? Zendaya is talented however she's not right for the part. This is Nina Simone all over

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