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Zendaya Revealed Why She Turned Down The Lead Role In Aaliyah Biopic

Gettyimages | Matt Winkelmeyer
By Jimmy Ha

In 2014, the Lifetime Network released a biopic of the late 90’s R&B singer, Aaliyah. The project was titled, “Aaliyah: Princess of R&B” and originally was supposed to star actress Zendaya Coleman, to play the leading role.

However, shortly after the announcement, Zendaya dropped out and there wasn’t much information then on why.

The script for the film was based on a book which documented the life of the star titled, “Aaliyah: More Than a Woman”, written by Christopher Farley.

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In addition to acting as the lead, Zendaya was set to record four of the songs in the movie as well.

After the initial announcement that Zendaya would be playing the leading role, the direct family of Aaliyah went against the project and eventually Zendaya dropped out of the project all together. However, news on what exactly happened during that time wasn’t clear and left and confused and disappointed.

During this incident, Lifetime wrote in a statement, “We are sad Zendaya will no longer portray Aaliyah. Production is currently on hold.”

Gettyimages | Jon Kopaloff

Another actress, Alexandra Shipp, ended up being casted for the role after Zendaya dropped out.

However, the biopic, “Aaliyah: Princess of R&B” turned out to be a success and became Lifetime’s highest-rated TV movie that year in 2014.

Regardless of the success of the biopic, many fans were wondering Zendaya backed out of a such a highly anticipated role. The actress took to Instagram and addressed the reasons she backed out of the Lifetime biopic.

“Let me just explain something. The reason why I chose not to do the Aaliyah movie had nothing to do with the haters or people telling me I couldn’t do it, I wasn’t talented enough or I wasn’t black enough. It had absolutely nothing to do with that,” she said. “The main reasons were the production value wasn’t there.”

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Zendaya also mentioned that she tried to reach out to Aaliyah’s family to get their approval of the film before starting to film. But, according to Aaliyah’s cousin, Jomo Hankerson, Lifetime “didn’t reach out.”

Hankerson reportedly also had issues with rights issues adding, “We want a major studio release along the lines of What’s Love.”

“There were complications with the music rights. And I just felt like it wasn’t being handled delicately considering the situation,” she said. “And I tried my best to reach out to the family on my own and I wrote a letter, but I was unable to do so. Therefore I felt not really morally OK with moving forward with the project.”

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Zendaya added that she wanted congratulate Alexandra Shipp on taking on the role.

“With all that being said, congratulations to the new woman playing Aaliyah. I only hope that she does not have to deal with half the haters that I had to deal with. And remember that we are all human beings trying to do what we love to do. Let’s practice motivation and love, not discrimination and hate. Alright, [kisses].”

In 2019, close friend of Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, spoke on Sway’s Universe about whether or not she’d re-make Aaliyah’s biopic. But, she made it known that she wants to make sure that the late singer’s family is heavily involved.

“When they are ready, I’m quite sure that we’ll do that,” she said.

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