At some extremely contrived professional mixer five years ago, a woman asked me to name the movie that surprises people when they learn I haven't seen it. Before I could answer, she volunteered her's: "Malcolm X." This alone was grounds for getting up and walking away from the bar, but I stayed because that would have been rude and she kinda looked like Sharon Leal. So I listened to her rationale ("His story just never really seemed that interesting to me"), attempted not to dry heave, and eventually answered her question:
"Love and Basketball."
If I were asked that same question today, I'd give the same answer. I've still only seen maybe 10 minutes of it. And, when people learn this, it surprises them because I played basketball in college and I (occasionally) write about love and shit. How could I, of all people, not have seen Love and Basketball?
The answer's simple: I haven't seen Love and Basketball because I played basketball. And, because I played basketball, I just couldn't buy Omar Epps as this superstar basketball player. This might seem like a minor thing, but he wasn't good enough at basketball for me to suspend my belief in the basketball scenes. I haven't been able to get into the movie because I can't get past being annoyed that this guy who's supposed to be an NBA all-star wouldn't have even made my high school team!
This closeness to the source material is why I try to avoid most basketball movies. (The sole exceptions? Above the Rim, He Got Game, and Finding Forrester — all movies where the main characters could actually play basketball!)
And this is also why Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B was doomed from the start.
Now, I'm not here today to list all the reasons why the Aaliyah biopic was a complete dumpster fire. It was haphazardly produced, oddly casted (My favorite odd cast decision? The 6'11 Anthony Grant as Damon Dash), ridiculously dialogued, each of the main actors needed their hearts blessed, and I'm pretty certain everyone working on this project was paid in cash. There are hundreds of pieces already published — some very, very funny — on how bad this shit was.
But even if this was a top-notch production, the product still would have fallen short in most people's eyes. Why? Well…Aaliyah just hasn't been dead long enough. The biopic focused on the span of Aaliyah's life where she came to prominence and became a star, that period of time we all remember from the mid-90s to her death in 2001. And that's the problem. This shit just happened. She hasn't been gone long enough for us to reminisce and recreate memories. We still remember her very public life and the people around her. You can't make a biopic loosely based on recent common knowledge fact because those facts are still too present, too alive still for us to grant the filmmakers any leeway. Instead of a movie about a famous person it becomes a bunch of carbon paper drawings traced by a legally blind artist. It's someone attempting to explain to you how the bacon you ate yesterday morning tasted.
Maybe if you make an Aaliyah biopic in 50 years, the memories of her lifespan will have faded enough for us to accept certain artistic liberties. Now, though, the R. Kelly you cast better look exactly like R. Kelly and not Akon.