The 17-year-old Disney Channel star had been set for the title role in the TV movie, and also planned to record four of the late R&B singer’s songs for the film. “We are sad Zendaya will no longer play Aaliyah. Production is on hold,” Lifetime announced on Twitter Sunday afternoon.
Zendaya didn’t address the decision directly on her own Twitter account, but she did retweet an E! News story that attributed her departure to production issues, including trouble obtaining the rights to Aaliyah’s music. “Aaliyah has always been an inspiration to Zendaya,” a source told E! News in a quote that Zendaya posted in a pair of tweets. “She was honored to portray her and pay tribute to her. If she is going to do it, she wants to do it right.”
Aaliyah’s family had already expressed displeasure with the project, which plans to include information about her controversial (and illegal) marriage to R. Kelly at the age of 15. “Considering the magnitude of her fans’ affection alone, she deserves to have a tribute much more grand than a television network debut that won’t even consider the perspectives of those who were closest to Aaliyah,” the family said in a statement.
“Disregarding the families and dishonoring the legacies of celebrated figures who have passed on, big networks want to exploit their stories for a buck. We’re here to make it clear that it’s not okay!”
The biopic, titled Aaliyah: Princess of R&B is based on Christopher John Farley’s bestselling biography Aaliyah: More Than a Woman. It was scheduled to begin shooting this summer for a fall premiere.