All the world loves a Lifetime movie. The stories are never too complex, no matter the issues they may touch upon. If you miss the first 30 minutes, that’s all right. The stories are such that you can catch up pretty easily. And most viewers don’t have particularly high expectations. So if the movie is even halfway decent, you walk away a satisfied viewer. The movie has to be darn awful for people to raise a stink.
That’s exactly what happened after the network aired its biopic Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B this weekend,which focused on the star who was killed in a plane crash at the age of 22 in 2001. And viewers didn’t just lash out at Lifetime for broadcasting a garbage movie. They went all the way off on Wendy Williams for producing it. She was even trending for a while on Saturday night.
Before the movie was even finished, there was controversy. The actress originally cast in the lead role, Zendaya Coleman, backed out. Then the family objected to the film and didn’t turn over the rights to the songs, meaning none of Aaliyah’s biggest hits actually appeared in a movie about her life. Then there were some who worried about the inclusion of details about the star’s reported marriage to R. Kelly at the age of 15.
Before it aired, producers Howard Braunstein and Debra Martin Chase and the author of the book on which the film was based Christopher Farley spoke out. Farley said, “We’re trying to honor this woman and tell this story of this journey and her overcoming obstacles. We felt we had enough of the music to still make a terrific film, and we’re excited to tell the story we were telling.”
Williams, for her part, made no apologies. On her show, she touted the fact that her movie “broke the internet.” Saying “everybody has an opinion,” she went on to crow about the ratings for the film: it was the “second highest rated movie on cable” this year so far, just behind Flowers in the Attic. According to TheWrap, it got 3.2 million viewers.
This just goes to show that viewers were excited to watch the film. That they didn’t like it is a shame. Perhaps viewers felt that Williams, a pop culture commentator and all around celebrity watcher for years, would understand the significant role that Aaliyah played in R&B and the pop culture history of her fans, and would make sure the film did her story justice. Instead, Williams seems to be taking the “all PR is good PR” approach to this, which may rub fans the wrong way even more. She has, in the past, admitted when she was wrong, and even ate actual crow on her show.
Ultimately, people will continue to watch Lifetime movies because they scratch an itch for easy entertainment. But the bar for Wendy Williams’ projects may now be lowered. Critics, under the impression that she’ll push out any old kind of thing as long as she gets the ratings, won’t go out of their way in the future to watch on a Saturday night the way they did this past weekend.