In the wake of Lana Del Rey’s dismissive comments about dying young like her idols Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, the New York Post announced Aaliyah’s posthumous upcoming biopic will also cover her controversial marriage to R. Kelly, back when the young singer was illegally married to Kelly when she was just 15 years old and the rapper 27. Not surprisingly, Aaliyah’s family is not happy about the film, Aaliyah: Princess of R&B, including these unpleasant yet factual details.
There’s a right way to do a biopic (Ray), and the wrong way (The Doors). Directors can’t just rest on the mythology, because we already know that story. We want the messy humanity element not just to engage in schadenfreude, but because that’s what will make these larger-than-life characters become three-dimensional, rather than real-life gossip mag renditions. If the puppeteers at Lifetime, who are making the film, want to do Aaliyah and her fans justice, they’ll tell the whole story with all of its grit and bite that made us fall for her in the first place and not bend to the family’s will.
“Aaliyah was more than a singer, she was – and is still – an American music icon whose legacy continues to live on and influence today’s music culture, just as Ray Charles, Notorious B.I.G., Selena and Johnny Cash,” the singer’s family said in a statement as reported by Rolling Stone magazine, “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. 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!”
Via the New York Post, producers assured, “Aaliyah’s personal and professional relationship with R. Kelly will be explored with care in the film as we set out to depict her life with the utmost respect.” Based on the biography Aaliyah: More Than a Woman, written by former Time music editor Christopher John Farley, the film will focus on Aaliyah’s life from age 10 until her tragic death at age 22. Unfortunately for her family, much of that time span includes the blight of Kelly.
I see why Aaliyah’s relatives wouldn’t be thrilled, but I don’t see how omitting the facts will diminish her legacy. Ray Charles was kind of an asshole, but matched with his talent and life’s obstacles, the story broadened his myth into an even bigger phenomena enlightening a whole new generation to his work. As for Notorious B.I.G., there’s no amount of ironing a writer could do to play down the drugs and legal issues while still being accurate. It’s a shame to disregard a famous person’s memory by picking only the bright spots because shame, success, regret, love and tragedy are all a part of a human life. Hopefully Lifetime will be able to balance the facts and still respect the singer. Her life wasn’t R. Kelly, but he’s a big part of that life, personally and professionally, whether we like it or not.