Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B (2014)
As with most biopics produced by Lifetime, the news that the television channel would be making a film about R&B star Aaliyah was not well received by those close to her. The singer’s family withheld access to her recordings, fans petitioned to stop the movie and original star Zendaya dropped out citing concerns about the film’s production values. She had a point. Like Lifetime’s previous effort The Brittany Murphy Story, this biopic confines coverage of its star’s film career to dodgy red-carpet appearances. Yet Zendaya’s absence from the project paved the way for newcomer Alexandra Shipp, whose engaging performance elevates this film above the channel's usual standard.
After a brief introduction covering Aaliyah’s early appearance on TV’s Star Search as well as sharing the stage with Gladys Knight, Shipp assumes the title role just as the dreaded R. Kelly creeps into frame. Aaliyah’s uncle and Knight’s former husband, record producer Barry Hankerson, has signed R. Kelly on as a client and introduces the yet-to-be-revealed sex offender to his niece. Succumbing to his advances while collaborating on her debut album ‘Age Ain't Nothing but a Number’ (uh-huh), Aaliyah falls under R. Kelly’s spell and becomes both his protégé and wife. After taking some time to recover from the controversial relationship, Aaliyah eventually regains her confidence and takes control of her life and career.
Filmed prior to the fallout that followed the ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ docuseries, this biopic treads carefully around the couple’s relationship, empathetically depicting Aaliyah’s heartache and her parent’s anger while taking a neutral stance on R. Kelly’s actions. Viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the ‘romantic’ scenes between the two are enough to make your skin crawl.
Yet how one reacts to entire film may depend on your familiarity with Aaliyah. Certainly, as a consequence of being unable to use the singer's recordings, the film becomes more of a showcase for Alexandra Shipp. Nevertheless, the film reminds us of the Aaliyah’s impact on the music scene, and though her friends and family remained unimpressed, it did encourage this reviewer to seek out footage of the original. Should anyone else be so inclined, I recommend you avoid Queen of the Damned.
as Gladys Knight
as R. Kelly
as Damon Dash
Film features a scene in which R. Kelly informs Aaliyah they need to wait until she is of age before they can consummate their relationship… Need I say more?
Biopic refers to Aailyah’s contribution to the animated film ‘Anastasia’ and her role in ‘Romeo Must Die’, but contains no scene recreations from her short film career.