With #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay trending on Twitter as a response to Super Bowl LII and Justin Timberlake performing, let’s look back at how the handling of her 2004 Super Bowl performance with Timberlake impacted a project that could have had a profound impact on her film/television career.
After the incident, while Timberlake’s career continued to flourish, Jackson was unfairly blacklisted for several years. One component of this backlash was Jackson’s forced resignation from a planned Lena Horne miniseries at ABC, which Jackson was set to executive produce and headline as Horne.
The news for the biopic miniseries was first announced in 2003, and Jackson, who at the time had long-wanted to make a Horne biopic, was set to re-record the singer’s hits as opposed to lip-syncing something unheard of at the time (and pretty much not a thing until 2017’s The New Edition Story).
ABC had optioned Horne’s autobiography in 2003 and Quinn Taylor, head of ABC’s movies and miniseries, immediately cast Jackson. At the time, she had not been on television since Fame in 1985, and her last drama was Poetic Justice in 1993. Variety said that the actress thought of this to be a vehicle to re-start her film career.
“I can’t think of more ideal casting. Janet Jackson and Lena Horne — it’s like peanut butter and jelly,” Taylor told the industry publication.
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who were very familiar to biopic success with The Three Stooges, Martin and Lewis and The Regans, would helm the project.
Saying that the biopic would let Jackson“shine as a thesp,” he explained, “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.”
A May 2004 release date was tossed around, but the producers also said they wanted to take their time with it.
Then came Super Bowl 2004 that February.
After the incident and unnecessary backlash against Jackson, she was forced to pull out of the project.
After Horne reportedly “balked at having the younger star play her,” ABC executives are said to have resisted, but Jackson ultimately left the project on her own accord after both Horne, advised by her daughter Gail Lumet Buckley, asked that she not take part, and reportedly even refused to return Horne’s contract unless Jackson was removed.
Some reports say that in standing with Jackson, Zadan and Meron also left the project. Other reports say that after they attempted meet with Horne and she refused, and that is when they decided to leave the project.
Even if the numerous reports saying Horne and her daughter wanted Jackson out of the project are just result of word-of-mouth rumors, there is no denying that Jackson having to leave the project is a direct result of the SB turmoil.
To this day, there has yet to be a Lena Horne project to come to fruition, although a biopic starring Alicia Keys has been talked about for years. Actress and director Salli Richardson-Whitfield had also spoke a few years back about wanting to portray Horne.