Aaliyah biopic coming to Lifetime

Aaliyah biopic coming to Lifetime
A movie about Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001, is expected on the Lifetime channel this fall. (Jim Cooper / Associated Press)

A film about the tragically short life of R&B singer Aaliyah has been rumored for years.

Now comes word that Lifetime is prepping a biopic of the late singer and actress who died in a 2001 plane crash at the apex of her fame. The film is tentatively titled "Aaliyah: Princess of R&B."


Disney star Zendaya Coleman will play the singer-actress affectionately known as "Baby Girl." The 17-year-old stars on Disney's "Shake It Up!" and released her self-titled debut last year. Coleman also competed on "Dancing With the Stars."

The film is based on the bestseller "Aaliyah: More Than a Woman" by former Time magazine music editor Christopher Farley, released a few months after her death.

Aaliyah's imprint hasn't waned more than a dozen years after her tragic death.

Her small catalog helped define and reinvent the sound of '90s R&B. The "street but sweet" brand of R&B she crafted with her slinky dance moves, breathy falsetto, tomboyish silhouettes and innovative beats that flirted with a number of genres quickly awarded her the moniker the "Princess of R&B."

Today, that influence can be heard in the work of such R&B-pop artists as Beyoncé, Ciara and JoJo, as well as genre outliers like Kelela and Jhene Aiko. Aaliyah's imprint can even be heard in Drake's work (the rapper-singer was set to executive produce a posthumous project but walked away after criticism of his involvement).

Aaliyah's death at age 22 came as she was having a breakout year that included her critically acclaimed eponymous third, and final, album and a budding film career. She had wrapped filming the video to the project's second single, "Rock the Boat," in the Bahamas when she and eight others perished.

For years there had been buzz about a potential Aaliyah biopic. The conversation intensified after VH1 debuted its well received film based on groundbreaking R&B/hip-hop trio TLC late last year.

Legalities between the late singer's family and Blackground -- which was founded by her uncle Barry Hankerson and is run by her cousin Jomo Hankerson – has been said to be a reason behind the lack of posthumous projects. When news of a potential album surfaced the singer's brother, Rashad Haughton, took to Twitter to say "no official album [is] being released and supported by the Haughton family." 

Ownership of the singer's estate, including music, has also been a hurdle. Canadian singer Keshia Chante, who bears an eerie resemblance to Aaliyah and was once attached to star as the late singer in a project, said in an interview that the project was stalled as the family struggled with estate issues.

The film is being produced by Aaliyah Productions Inc., with Howard Braunstein and Debra Martin Chase serving as executive producers.

In a sad twist, Chase and Whitney Houston had tapped Aaliyah to star in their remake of "Sparkle." They shelved the project after her death, later relaunching the project. Aaliyah's role went to "American Idol" alum Jordin Sparks. "Sparkle" became Houston's final film appearance after her tragic 2012 death. Lifetime recently announced it will debut a biopic of Houston next year.

Bradley Walsh will direct from a script written by Michael Elliot.

"Aaliyah:Princess of R&B" will be filmed this summer and is slated to premiere in the fall.