I admired everything about her – her style, music, her voice, her personality, her grace, and her admired dance routines. I had a VHS where I had all of her music videos recorded for the sole purpose of learning her choreography. Aaliyah was to me what Beyoncé’ is to many young girls today. I remember the morning it was announced that she passed. Why did she die so soon? She was in a new relationship, she had just released a new album, and she was knocking on the doors of Hollywood. It seemed as if she had accomplished so much already, but life was really just beginning for Aaliyah. It was truly heartbreaking.
Over the years, there had been rumors of a biopic being in the works. I think this excited many fans including myself, because although we cherished what we knew about her there was still a bit of mystery to Aaliyah. For a while it was rumored a young Canadian singer/actress by the name of Keshia Chante’ (now known for hosting 106 & Park) was slated to portray the young Singer. At the time, it seemed like it was a good choice but the project never was able to progress. It looked as if the fans would have to wait to see the life of their fav’ hit the big screen.
Fast forward to 2014, rumors of another biopic were confirmed but this film would be shown through Lifetime Movie Network, and was based on the book “Aaliyah: More Than a Woman” by Chris Farley. This biography of her life seemed to be based on public accounts of her career rather than personal testimonies about her life from those closest to her. This film project was a red flag for many because it was felt that a movie about Aaliyah deserved a larger platform. For this reason, the Haughton family was not on board with this project; the network and the executive producer, Wendy Williams, pushed the project forward. Therefore, the filmmakers were unable to license any of Aaliyah’s material, nor gain any personal accounts of her life without that support. This fact alone killed the film before it even began. These are the main reasons that Keshia Chante’ decided not to participate in this project about Aaliyah, and ultimately why Zendaya Coleman backed out. Good choice. People don’t want to see a biopic based on information that can be gathered by doing a Google search; they want an authentic account with a personal look into the artist’s life.
This brings me to my main point: The main problem with this whole movie was that it lacked authenticity. It came off very forced and phony from the start. Let’s explore why this is the case:
1. I found it hard to connect with the scenes where Aaliyah interacted with her family, or anyone close to her for that matter. None of these people had anything to do with this film, so everything was forced fiction. How do I know what conversations she had with her mother and grandmother? How do I know how her romantic relationship with Dame Dash began? What really happened with the marriage and then annulment with singer R. Kelly? All of these questions remained unanswered, because none of these people contributed their input to this film. All gossip, all fiction, all inadequate for a solid biopic film foranyartist.
2. The story lacked depth. As I said before, it seemed like an account of her public life, with made up fillers about her personal life. Also, so much time was spent on the relationship with R. Kelly and the “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” era that the rest of the film felt rushed. Speaking of that, it was weird how the writers almost romanticized this very inappropriate relationship. Why is Kelly even here as a free man? Anyway, I would’ve liked to see more about the “One in A Million” era. Her sophomore release made such an impact in her career as well as those who worked with her on that album. It introduced to use the new sounds of Timbaland and Missy, both members of Da Bassment Crew. This was a monumental period in Aaliyah’s career, and to reduce it to a few scenes is disrespectful. R. Kelly did a lot to help start her career, but her relationship with this bunch of musicians and artist took it to another level. I would’ve liked to see more about her friendships with Tim and Missy, and even her choreographer Fatima Robinson. We have Fatima to thank for all of the routines we loved so much. Her whole team respected and revered her so much; I would’ve loved to see that explored in a film about her life. Furthermore, we all saw Aaliyah mature and become a woman, shedding her baggy clothes for a more feminine look. I would’ve liked to see more about that transition. I would’ve like to see more about her relationship with Roc-a-Fella Records (Rockyfella in the Lifetime movie), and how her relationship with Damon Dash began. There are so many missing elements in this film which makes me wonder why it was released. It almost felt like it was an opportunity to create gossip around the R. Kelly situation.
3. The casting was horrendous, and the acting was subpar. I honestly won’t blame the actors for the lack of information and poor script they had to work with. Alexandra Shipp did the best she could with what she had. What I don’t understand however is as an actress who hopefully wants to be respected for her work, why even take on a project as such with limited resources, and why not spend more time researching and trying to make your character believable? I didn’t believe I was looking at Aaliyah. Let’s even look at actress Naturi Naughton taking on the role of Lil’ Kim in the movie Notorious. Naturi, didn’t have much to work with, and even though Kim is still living she didn’t have much of a chance to reach out to Kim to really learn Kim’s side of the story, and study Kim in the flesh. HOWEVER, it seemed to me that with the information she had she did a good job. I didn’t feel that from Alexandra. It felt like I was watching someone trying to be a character instead of becoming them. As a professional in my field, I’m not going to put my name on any project that won’t be done correctly. I respect what I do too much. I’m not sure why Alexandra decided to take on this role with such little information and resources. This role did more to hurt her as a respected actress than it did help her. Plenty of actors and actresses have turned down roles they felt wouldn’t help their career. This seems like it was more of an opportunity to be the “one who played Aaliyah,” than to build a solid track record as a respected actress. If I respected my craft, I wouldn’t have done this film in this way, period.
For me, an actress/actor looking exactly like a character isn’t as important as finding an actor good enough to make the role believable. Angela Basset and Lawrence Fishburne looked nothing at all like Ike and Tina, but dammit I felt like I was watching Ike and Tina Turner. To make it believable, you have to study the person’s mannerisms, speech patterns, expressions, response to emotion etc. You can’t just halfway dress up as someone and expected to pull it off.
This is how you prepare to slay a biopic:
This brings me to the wardrobe. Oh dear God the wardrobe. They tried with Alexandra but I still feel it was a bit off, especially when it comes to the inconsistency of her career timeline. To make matters worse, they completely disrespected the hell out of Missy Elliot with the casting choice and the outfit they put her in. There was like zero effort put into that role. We all know Missy was a larger woman who wore a finger wave and shiny suits then. Yet, they put this famished woman in a track suit, a raggedy Tionne Watkins wig, complete with a bedazzled hat. Seriously? Even in the short scenes she had the acting still didn’t make me believe this was Missy. Shame and a scandal. This was pretty much consistent with every character including R. Kelly, Timbaland, and Dame Dash. I seriously was sitting asking myself “who are these people, and what role are they trying to play?”
4. The music. When I heard that demon spawn Iggy Azalea’s song “Goddess” in the trailer I knew this movie was doomed. But I gave it a chance anyway, just to see if I could be proved wrong. So much for those obviously high hopes. Because the family didn’t support the project, the filmmakers were unable to license her original music. This should’ve been the number one reason not to go through with the film. As a fan of Aaliyah and the music that was out during that time, I would’ve liked to reminisce about what she was known for; the music and dancing. Part of the reason movies like Notorious, the TLC movie, What’s Love Got to Do with It, Ray and others were successful, was the music. How can we connect with the story as a whole without it? My favorite parts of these movies were getting up to dance and sing along with the songs I loved so much. All we gotwere auto-tuned hot mess performances from Alexandra, horrible renditions of Timbaland beats, and imitation Jay-Z songs. Embarrassing.
This movie was horrible, in more ways than one. The key people involved didn’t seem to care about the details from the fashion of the character during those eras, to the mispronunciation of the main character’s name. Heck, Wendy Williams didn’t even know that her “favorite” Aaliyah song wasn’t titled “Let Me Know” but instead “At Your Best,” an Isley Brother original. I’d have to say this is probably the worst film I’ve ever seen. It is my sincere hope that everyone involved in this project has learned their lesson. It was so obviously thrown together, leaving me wondering what the rush was. I don’t understand what this team was trying to prove; why rush to do something half-assed? An apology needs to go out to the family, and everyone who was misrepresented in this film. Maybe one day, Aaliyah will get the biopic she deserves with full support of everyone who was important in her life. If you can’t pull off the story of any artist’s life, it needs to be done with enough depth and accuracy. Otherwise, it should be left alone.