Lifetime has confirmed that Zendaya Coleman, the 17-year-old best known as the star of Disney Channel’s Shake It Up! and as a breakout on Dancing With the Stars, will no longer be starring in the cable channel’s upcoming Aaliyah biopic, Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B (working title).
“We are sad Zendaya will no longer portray Aaliyah. Production is currently on hold,” the network’s PR team confirmed Sunday on its Twitter feed. The casting of Coleman, whose own 2013 single “Replay” spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, was announced June 16.
A rep for Coleman confirmed to EW that Zendaya is no longer involved in the project but no reason was given. (E! News first reported the story.)
In the issue of Entertainment Weekly now on stands, 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 had made the choice to sing in the movie. “When it first came up I said, ‘Uh-oh, no.’ And then she took it upon herself to record a piece of a song and she sent it to us, and we were like, ‘Wow. She was really good.’ And that was without any real prep or work that will go into the songs in the movie,” Chase said. “She’s a huge Aaliyah fan; Aaliyah has influenced her throughout her entire career and she’s 100 percent committed to doing this right. She’s fully in.”