I remember Aaliyah in a tan jumpsuit, spinning and smiling. She was singing her version of ‘Journey to the Past’ for Anastasia’s soundtrack (dir. Don Bluth & Gary Goldman, 1997). (My family accrued serious mileage on that movie’s VHS.) She was radiant in Journey’s music video, and not only thanks to the stellar handiwork of post-production. The woman had a self-contained light — a charm that cameras loved.

Aaliyah was more than a music-star. (She didn’t study drama in high school for nothing.) As an actress-chanteuse, she moved with story and rhythm. She slid from the elliptical R&B of her discography to the metallic cityscapes of Romeo Must Die (dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak, 2000) and Queen of the Damned (dir. Michael Rymer, 2002) without missing a beat. If she’d lived long enough, she would have brought similar prowess to The Matrix: Reloaded (2003) and the Sparkleremake (delayed to 2012 due to her death).

Aaliyah wore vampiric cool like a second skin. In Romeo Must Die, she emerged from the grunge of 1990s neo-soul as a streetwise fighter. In her performance as Trish O’Day, she was a well-rounded action-heroine — clever, sensitive, sultry and strong, like so many Black women. She had an enviable chemistry with her co-star Jet Li (who played Han Sing). The movie’s soundtrack (executive-produced by Aaliyah herself) captured the smooth futurism of the new millennium, enhancing the film’s fresh tone.


Romeo Must Die fight/dance scene — Trish & Han vs. Motorcycle Fighter (Francoise Yip)

Romeo Must Die club scene — Trish, Han, Silk (DMX) & Mac (Isaiah Washington)

Romeo Must Die red carpet — “Aaliyah @ ‘Romeo Must Die’ Premiere 3-20-00”

In Queen of the Damned, Aaliyah made a regal, supernatural turn as the titular character (Queen Akasha). Serpentine and bloodthirsty, she was spellbinding whether she posed as a petrified statue or a stalking predator. Her character moved skillfully to the movie’s headbanging soundtrack, killing targets with easy flicks of the wrist. Though her vampire-queen character perished in the end, both Akasha and Aaliyah are eternal in fans’ memories. I still mourn her, and the fantasy-film titan she could have been.


Queen of the Damned meeting scene — Queen Akasha & Lestat (Stuart Townsend)

Queen of the Damned behind-the-scenes — Aaliyah on-set

Queen of the Damned Aaliyah tribute — “Aaliyah Remembered”

Further Reading:

Aaliyah Estate in Talks to Bring R&B Icon’s Music to Streaming Services “In The Near Future”’ by Tatiana Cirisano

18 Years After Her Death, We Look Back On Aaliyah’s Acting Career And What Could Have Been’ (Shadow and Act)