The future of Lifetime’s potential biopic about late R&B sensation Aaliyah Haughton looks uncertain after its lead star has now dropped out of the project.
Oakland’s own Zendaya Coleman has left Aaliyah: Princess of R&B just two weeks after news broke that the 17-year-old Disney Channel star was cast in the title role.
The network confirmed her departure via their official Twitter account on Sunday:
We are sad Zendaya will no longer portray Aaliyah. Production is currently on hold.
— LifetimePR (@LifetimeTV_PR) June 29, 2014
Known professionally by her first name, the role was a dream come true for Zendaya, who credits Aaliyah (who also went by her first name professionally) as one of her biggest musical influences.
Though she said the decision to leave the project was difficult, she didn’t seem to be in bad spirits as she channeled Aaliyah’s spirit at Sunday’s BET Awards by rocking a powder blue Letterman-inspired jacket with matching maxi skirt and elongated braids.
Known best for her role as Rocky Blue on Disney’s hit series Shake It Up, Zendaya told MTV News that she felt the project was rushed and because of her love and admiration for Aaliyah, she couldn’t participate in it if it didn’t live up to certain standards. But she also said that if the right project does come along sometime in the future, she’ll be the first person ready to portray Aaliyah:
“I’ve been into Aaliyah since I was little, so there wasn’t too much getting into character. I always pretend I’m her anyway.”
She also took to Twitter Sunday morning to thank her fans (or “Zswaggers” as she calls them) for all their support:
my Zswaggers are the BEST! Thank you for your undying support thru everything! ????????????
— Zendaya (@Zendaya) June 29, 2014
News of Zendaya’s casting was met with immediate backlash from loyal Aaliyah fans to the point that a petition was started in hopes of shutting down the project. Controversy also arose regarding whether or not Aaliyah’s family would be involved with the project.
Other criticisms ranged from the color of Zendaya’s skin to even her ethnicity. According to her IMDB bio, Zendaya is African-American on her father’s side and Caucasian (with German, Irish and English ancestry) on her mother’s side.
Based on the book Aaliyah: More Than a Woman by former Time Magazine music editor Christopher Farley, the film would have chronicled Aaliyah’s life from her early days to her rise to fame and culminate with her untimely death at the tender age of 22 in a plane crash in the Bahamas in August 2001.
The Brooklyn native released three hit albums between 1994 and 2001, culminating with her chart-topping self-titled 2001 release.
She also ventured into the acting world with roles in the films Romeo Must Die (2000) and Queen of the Damned (2002).
Aaliyah has been credited for helping redefine hip hop and R&B in the 1990s and inspired other successful hip hop and R&B stars, including Destiny’s Child alumni Beyoncé Knowles and Kelly Rowland, Chris Brown, Rihanna, J. Cole and Omarion.