There is nothing more that I can say that hasn’t already been said or meme’d in the media about Lifetime’s recent “Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B” Lifetime movie. Let me just make one thing clear that you may not know about me: I love Lifetime movies. There is no other television channel in America that produces stories about kidnapping, eating disorders, domestic abuse, incest, and any other human foible that women can rise above like the Lifetime Network, and they own it. If I’m sick in bed or just plain in the mood, I can hop on YouTube and re-watch classics such as “Girl Fight”, “To Be Fat Like Me”, “Fifteen and Pregnant”, “She’s Too Young”, or “A Friend’s Betrayal” and revel in heightened states of emotion. The level of cheese could skyrocket into space, but that won’t stop me from viewing. Lifetime knows their niche and caters to that denominator very well.
Riding high from the recent success of the “Flowers in the Attic” series, it seemed as though maybe, just maybe, they could do no wrong by Aaliyah’s legacy. Even with Zendaya dropping out of the lead role and Aaliyah’s family wanting nothing to do with the production, there was still a chance of this movie at least being OK. Just make sure your casting is on point, because without having the rights to Aaliyah’s recordings or personal photos and media footage, the casting is 100% make or break territory in the case of this production, along with copious amounts of research, and spot-on costume and set design.
But no, not even Missy Elliot famous finger waves made an appearance. I remember the era of Blackground Records very fondly. Hell, I remember being a wee little thing writing lines of poetry in the basement with Aaliyah’s music videos playing in the background. Aaliyah, Blackstreet, Ginuwine, Timbaland & Magoo, Missy Elliot, R. Kelly….they dominated the airwaves during a very memorable time in my childhood. Aaliyah was an artist that I looked up to and admired because she was both sexy and classy. She had personality without being vulgar. She was sweet and ambitious. She was funny, strong, and business savvy. When Aaliyah died, other friends of mine who were also fans mourned. It was the first time that I can remember truly mourning the death of a pop star. There was just something about her that was special, and if given more time, would have been a megastar. She was just getting started around the time of her passing.
Having said that, I more than understand why people are stark raving mad about the portrayal of her life’s story on Lifetime. It appeared rushed and disingenuous. Alexandra Shipp, who played Aaliyah in the TV movie, did a wonderful job. Yet even watching her rendition of Aaliyah performing “Journey to the Past”, something was missing. The magic of the original performance, for me, was not 100% there:
As for the casting of Missy, Timbaland, R. Kelly, and Damon Dash? I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves. You be the judge, jury, and/or executioners:
I would have loved to see the fictional Ginuwine and for the movie to go deeper into how iconic the fashion was then. Aaliyah’s rise to stardom was glossed over and instead the viewing audience was whisked into the R.Kelly & Aaliyah story about ten minutes into the movie, which would have been fine if this subplot went deeper. After all, she was a teenager and he was a grown man twice her age in an illegal relationship. One hour and a half of this and then thirty minutes of the Aaliyah and Damon Dash story, with two short paragraphs about how Aaliyah died and will be missed. No real life footage of her casket being carried on the Upper East Side streets of New York in a horse drawn carriage. No fictional portrayal of “More Than A Woman”, both the song and music video, “Rock the Boat”, her experiences acting in “Romeo Must Die” and “Queen of the Damned”…
I just hope that another movie based on the life of Aaliyah will come to pass on the big screen. One that the fans can appreciate and not make #LifetimeBeLike memes out of. Leaving such an unforgettable mark in music history at a young age, Aaliyah, her family, and her legacy deserve that much, not for clicks, rating, or money, but to share a human story of triumph, adversity, ambition, and God-given talents.
Rest in Peace Aaliyah