Did You Know Janet Jackson Was Supposed To Portray Lena Horne In A Biopic?

February 8, 2018  |  

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In the midst of the discussion about Justin Timberlake and his recent Super Bowl performance and Janet Jackson appreciation day, people started digging up all types of information about the legendary pop singer. One of the more interesting tidbits was the fact that Jackson was set to portray another legendary singer, Lena Horne in a biopic she was also planning to executive produce.

But then the Super Bowl of 2004 happened and Nipplegate happened and all hell broke loose. While Justin Timberlake’s career took off, Janet Jackson’s took a hit. When we say that, we typically mean in the mainstream industry. But there were some projects of particular interest to the Black community that Jackson lost the opportunity to be a part of.

According to Shadow and Act, one of those projects was the Lena Horne miniseries that was slated to appear on ABC. The miniseries was first announced in 2003. Jackson was set to re-record Horne’s vocals.

In 2003, ABC optioned Horne’s autobiography and the head of ABC’s movies Quinn Taylor immediately cast Jackson in the lead role. At this time, she had not been on television since “Fame” in 1985 and her last film was Poetic Justice in 1993. The Horne project was supposed to re-start her acting career.

In an interview with Variety about the project, Taylor said, “I can’t think of more ideal casting. Janet Jackson and Lena Horne — it’s like peanut butter and jelly.”

Other producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron said Jackson would shine as a thespian. “She’s an actress that will excite people and surprise them in every conceivable way with her emotion and depth. The idea is even more thrilling to us because Janet will recreate the Lena Horne sound and do all of her own singing.”

The project was supposed to be released in May of 2004. But the Super Bowl happened in February.

After the backlash, Jackson was forced to pull out of the project.

According to the Associated Press, Horne reportedly “balked at having the younger star play her.” ABC pushed back but Jackson ultimately left the project on her own after Horne’s daughter Gail Lumet Buckley asked that she not take part.

The family even refused to return Horne’s contract until Jackson was removed from it. In a sign of solidarity, Meron and Zadan also left the project. Sources say the producing pair attempted to meet with Horne to convince her of Jackson’s involvement but she refused.

In the 14 years since the biopic was supposed to air, there have been talks about revamping the project with Alicia Keys or Salli Richardson-Whitfield but it has yet to come to fruition.

This seems like things happened as they should. Not only does Janet Jackson look nothing like Lena Horne, I don’t know if she has the acting chops to pull off such an important role. Still, the story needs to be told. Hopefully, someone, somewhere can figure out a way to put it together in the right way.

Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is also the author of “Bettah Days” and the creator of the website NoSugarNoCreamMag. You can follow her on Facebook and on Instagram and Twitter @VDubShrug.

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