Following harsh backlash over her casting, Disney Channel star Zendaya Coleman has reportedly exited production of the upcoming Aaliyah biopic for Lifetime.
Lifetime broke the news on Twitter earlier today:
We are sad Zendaya will no longer portray Aaliyah. Production is currently on hold.
— LifetimePR (@LifetimeTV_PR) June 29, 2014
The original decision to cast Coleman was met with a flood of outrage, as many questioned why a fair biracial woman was selected to play Aaliyah, who had darker skin. Entertainment Weekly covered the controversy in a recent issue:
Debra Martin Chase, exec producer of the biopic, tells EW's Nina Terrero that Coleman was cast because "she has Aaliyah's spirit." The casting was controversial to some fans, who felt the biracial teen is too light-skinned to play Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22. "Honestly, I think it's ridiculous. What does that mean? What does it mean to be black enough?" Chase responded. "I'm African-American. What does that mean? She's biracial, but she identifies as black. She has a very strong black father. It's very narrow and short-sighted. It's not the world we live in today. And she, like you, like all of us, encompasses all her cultural experiences and heritage. And most importantly, she physically resembles her."
Coleman has so far not commented on today's news, except to retweet an article referencing her exit. Controversy around the film was not limited to Coleman's casting. Aaliyah's family released a statement expressing their dissatisfaction with the planned film. Via Rolling Stone:
Aaliyah's family had already expressed displeasure with the project, which plans to include information about her controversial (and illegal) marriage to R. Kelly at the age of 15. "Considering the magnitude of her fans' affection alone, she deserves to have a tribute much more grand than a television network debut that won't even consider the perspectives of those who were closest to Aaliyah," the family said in a statement.
"Disregarding the families and dishonoring the legacies of celebrated figures who have passed on, big networks want to exploit their stories for a buck. We're here to make it clear that it's not okay!"