Zendaya Cast as Aaliyah in Biopic, Ignorance Flourishes
The 17-year-old actress/singer/dancer will take on the short-lived star, to whom she paid homage at Keep A Child Alive‘s “Dream Halloween” event in October 2013.
The immediate backlash has included complaints that Zendaya doesn’t look enough like Aaliyah, who died in a fatal plane crash on August 25, 2001.
Some people have basically called for an Aaliyah doppelganger to portray her, regardless of acting, singing or dancing abilities.
they should’ve just found this girl and asked her to play Aaliyah.. pic.twitter.com/NHXZ1SvfXW
— trill scott-heron (@baeElectronica) June 16, 2014
Not Black Enough
And some comments have gone as far to call Zendeya white or Mexican or Asian, while others come from an alternate reality where Aaliyah was dark-skinned and “fully black.”
Tf.. a white girl playin aaliyah ? The fat boy from 22 jump street must be playin missy..
— #SKINS#HTTR (@Elite_Ease) June 16, 2014
Y a white person playin aaliyah? Lol? …
— Yella'G✨ (@CocaineYELLA) June 16, 2014
I know Keshia Chante is PISSED! All that promo she did to play the part of Aaliyah and they give it to a Mexican named Zadayah???? Ouch!
— ( ˘~˘)☞ VH1's Tank (@Boi_Kat_Stacks) June 16, 2014
@ultramagnetic Need to be full black. Aaliyah was not Asian
— Tiahzzi Cherrelle (@MissTia777) June 16, 2014
All these light skinned, long haired, skinny girls out here & they choose a WHITE GIRL to play Aaliyah.
None of which is accurate: Zendaya is half black and half white, born to Kazembe Ajamu Coleman and Claire Stoermer; while Aaliyah had African-American and Oneida heritage (the Oneida are a First Nations people and one of the five founding tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy).
The casting has quickly turned into what is “black enough,” although hilariously, if Zendaya dared to ever deny her “blackness,” she would be quickly reminded that “her ass is BLACK! Look at her black ass daddy!”
From this, there have been ridiculous comparisons to Zoe Saldana‘s casting as Nina Simone, as if the non-existent “dark” hue of Aaliyah’s skin was a major part to her story as it is with Nina’s.
The gap between Zendaya and Aaliyah as far as the look goes is nowhere as wide as the Zoe/Nina Simone gap is
— Taurean (@TheBlackVoice) June 16, 2014
Do Biopics Need Exact Lookalikes?
The Aaliyah biopic response is actually closer to the negative reactions over VH1’s TLC movie casting, which were mostly targeted at KeKe Palmer as Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas and Lil Mama as Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes.
“Hold Up! Lil’ Mama Will Never Match Up To Left Eye’s Legacy!,” read a headline at GlobalGrind before the film premiered.
“Legendary. Untouchable. Creator. All of those words can easily be used to describe Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and the mark she left when she passed away in 2002. However, not one of those adjectives can I see ever being associated with Lil’ Mama for anything that she has ever done.”
The end result proved that very few could embody Left Eye the way Lil Mama did.
Is Aaliyah more deserving of a closer look-alike than Malcolm, even though it’s hard to imagine anyone else bringing him to life in a film? Denzel didn’t need to be a red-haired redbone to make you believe him.
Though also initially dismissed, Beyoncé didn’t need to look exactly like a heftier Etta James to play the sassy and troubled icon in 2008’s Cadillac Records, and Don Cheadle didn’t need the exact face shape as Sammy Davis, Jr. to nail the portrayal of him in HBO’s 1998 film The Rat Pack.
And does the issue of exact likeness mean Don can’t play the legendary Miles Davis in his forthcoming film, as he plans to do, because he doesn’t really look like Miles?
The answer is that is it all comes down to the quality of the script, the acting, and how committed an actor is to recreating someone.
Tyler Perry Is Not Involved
As for the Aaliyah biopic, further misinformation has been spreading that Tyler Perry has written the script and will be directing it. Also false.
The currently untitled television movie has been adapted from a script written by Michael Elliot (Brown Sugar), and will be directed by Bradley Walsh (Turn the Beat Around).
Additionally, several people have been trying to calm the waters by making up that “Zendaya will play teen Aaliyah” while 106 and Park‘s “Keshia Chanté will play adult Aaliyah.” None of this has been reported by any source.
As of now, the only other casting information we know is that actress Tristin Mays, of Nickelodeon’s Gullah Gullah Island, had announced being in the running for Aaliyah’s role in May. But wait, did anyone double-check Keshia and Tristin’s ancestry first?
Set to premiere on
VH1Lifetime on August 25, 2014, the film is being produced by Aaliyah Productions, Inc., with Howard Braunstein (The Informant!) and Debra Martin Chase (The Princess Diaries) serving as executive producers.