When Lifetime’s “Aaliyah: Princess of R&B” debuted Saturday, the film dominated chatter on social media the rest of the weekend. But not for reasons the producers would have hoped.
Fans of the late singer blasted the film on Twitter, ripping everything from the acting to the lack of music to the film’s portrayal of the singer’s illegal relationship with mentor R. Kelly.
The vitriol was so widespread that multiple topics and memes related to the two-hour film trended throughout the night and over the weekend. Among the popular trends were references to the singer’s longtime producing partners Missy Elliott and Timbaland, her better known songs that weren’t included in the film (producers were limited in their music licensing rights), and memes such as "#Lifetime Disrespects Aaliyah” and “#LifetimeBeLike,” which saw people mocking the network’s casting choices and imaging which celebrities would play others in future films (the Rock as Queen Latifah was a much re-posted meme).
Timbaland also got in on the action, taking to his Instagram to post numerous videos bashing the project.
“A lot of people keep asking me if I’m watching that ... — evidently not,” the producer said in one video. “No way. Not Timbo.” Later, he posted again, “People, thanks for the comments tonight on that ... Aaliyah movie. They have felt Timbo’s wrath tonight, baby, and that’s it.”
Timbaland also called into Hot 97 to further express his distaste for the film.
“I just think it was done wrong,” he said. “Only thing I can go with it is you’re showing a mockery on TV and that’s what really bothered me.”
Lifetime’s biopic tracing the rise of the beloved R&B singer, who died at the peak of her fame in a plane crash at age 22, has been mired in controversy since the beginning.
Fans protested the casting of the film, going as far as drafting online petitions to admonish the initial choice of Disney star Zendaya Coleman to portray Aaliyah. The singer’s family also disapproved of the project, publicly criticizing Lifetime and withholding the use of her music from producers.
Amid the controversy, Coleman exited due to “production issues” -- she said the public furor didn’t spark her decision -- and Alexandra Shipp from Nickelodeon’s “House of Anubis” stepped into Coleman’s role, and producers forged ahead.
“We’re all trying to make the very best movie we could make. We’re all trying to celebrate her life and trying to tell a great story and a great character arc for this beautiful young lady,” said producer Howard Braunstein ahead of the film. “There are always going to be people, no matter what you’re doing, who are critical. But I think, and I certainly hope, the vast majority of people will enjoy this film and take away that this was an extraordinary talent."
Jomo Hankerson, the singer’s cousin and president of Blackground Records, has said in interviews that the family’s issue with the film was that it was a made-for-TV project and not a feature film.
He also said the network never reached out to consult with the family, which producers have denied. Blackground is reportedly developing a project with a script written by bestselling novelist Zane (“Zane’s Addicted”) and will include never-before-released music from the singer.
A spokeswoman for the author said she couldn’t publicly comment on the project at this time.
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