Lifetime’s Aaliyah Biopic: The Film That Should Never Have Been Made

Lifetime aired its controversial biopic on late R&B icon Aaliyah tonight, and true to the network’s recent trend with celebrity and pop culture tell-alls — need we bring up the cringe-worthy Brittany Murphy and Saved By the Bell films? — it was pretty bad. While there are some positives to Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B (it paints the “Try Again” singer as passionate and determined, and lead actress Alexandra Shipp both looks and feels like Aaliyah), most of it is quite insulting.

There’s a reason why Aaliyah’s family didn’t condone this movie (allegedly, they’re saving their own biopic plans for the big screen). It skates over many aspects of her life that undoubtedly impacted her in a profound way, notably her relationship with R.Kelly, who produced Aaliyah’s first album Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number (1994) and began an inappropriate relationship with the singer in her early teen years; the two allegedly married when she was 15, and he was 27.  While Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B Executive Producer Wendy Williams defended the film’s lighter approach, it seems like the team behind it was afraid to tell the singer’s real story. And that’s where it goes wrong.

Let’s start out positive, though. The film wasn’t a total tragedy, and it managed to get a few things right:

It shows Aaliyah strong and in control of her career. 

Aaliyah was a go-getter, and Lifetime made sure that was apparent. If we’re to believe the movie, it was always Aaliyah — never a fame-hungry “momager” or “stage dad” — who wanted a career in show business. She displayed an incredible amount of poise and professionalism for a girl who also had trigonometry homework on her mind. A film highlight was when Aaliyah met with suited-up executives at her record label to discuss her sophomore album One in a Million, and they were insistent on bringing in surefire hit-maker Rodney Jerkins to produce the LP. But Aaliyah, at the ripe-old age of 16, demanded that then-unknown hip-hop maestros Missy Elliott and Timbaland take the reins. That took some serious guts, but it certainly paid off. Million went on to sell 10 million copies worldwide.

Her family is portrayed as supporting and loving, despite Aaliyah’s seismic rise to fame. 

Fame can change families, but definitely not Aaliyah’s. The film paints the Haughtons as down-to-Earth, warm, and unaffected by Aaliyah’s incredible success. In one tender scene, Aaliyah’s grandmother gives a family ring to the “Rock the Boat” singer so she will always be with her. Cue tears.

In the (few) performance scenes featured, Shipp isn’t half bad. 

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