The best (and worst) made-for-TV biopics

Courtesy of Lifetime “The Clark Sisters” movie has been widely praised for showcasing the Gospel greats’ intricate harmonies.

With the recent release of new biopics about Salt-N-Pepa and Wendy Williams, what better time than to look back at some of previous shows that kicked off the trend.

Let’s be honest. Biopics of our favorite stars have become a guilty viewing pleasure. Anytime we hear the words “based on a true story,” we are ready to pull up with popcorn and tune in to the drama.

Whether these made-for-TV movies hit a home run in their retellings or completely miss the mark is a whole different story. Either way, we love them and love to hate them (just ask Black Twitter). And there are some that have undoubtedly captured our memories for being such polarizing productions.


Here are 10 biopics that will forever be known for capturing the best and worst of their subjects.

“The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel”

This look at the Grammy-winning, highest-selling female gospel group in history could have been a whole miniseries—with just the sisters sanging. The harmonies were everything! The film took us through flawless song recreations of sisters Jacky Clark Chisholm, Denise “Niecy” Clark Bradford, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark, Dorinda Clark-Cole, and Karen Clark Sheard, while showing their mother Dr. Mattie Moss Clark’s no-time-for-mess philosophy. (Don’t get caught with gum, Mama Clark is throwing shoes!)

Lifetime, 2020


Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Michel’le”

‘90s R&B singer Michel’le may have been missing from “Straight Outta Compton,”but she is all over this Lifetime film. The powerhouse vocalist finally got to tell her side of the story, after surviving abuse from her former Death Row lover Dr. Dre, and husband, Suge Knight.

Lifetime, 2016


“Whitney”

This film about the meteoric rise and tragic death of the late RE&B legend Whitney Houston was shrouded in all sorts of drama before it even aired. Houston’s family didn’t want it released and Houston’s songs even had to re-recorded by Deborah Cox for the film. The controversy, of course, made us want to watch it even more and it pulled in killer ratings.

Lifetime, 2015


“The New Edition Story”

This three-part miniseries just might be the new gold standard for music biopics. All six members—Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ralph Tresvant, and Johnny Gill—signed on as executive producers to give us a breakdown of their entire careers. Longtime fans got to see New Edition’s upbringings and drama in a whole new light and relive some of their favorite moments. Everything was on point, from the casting that showcased a new generation of actors and singers who are now part of R&B history to the retro hairstyles and wardrobe.

BET, 2017


“The Bobby DeBarge Story”

Speaking of hair, be prepared to laugh at this biopic’s attempts of capturing the style and looks of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Before there was El DeBarge, there was Bobby. The film follows the second eldest DeBarge’s rise to fame as the lead singer of Motown Records’ Switch band, while he battled abuse and addiction. 

TV One, 2019


“Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart”

This behind-the-scenes look at the R&B diva debuted as Lifetime’s top-rated movie, even surpassing “Whitney.” The feel-good film was supported by Braxton, herself, and the rest of her sisters, as it was based on her best-selling memoir, Unbreak My Heart.

Lifetime, 2016


“The Jacksons: An American Dream”

This five-hour miniseries is arguably the GOAT of biopics. Before streaming and YouTube, we were glued to our television screens to watch Joe Jackson (literally) whip the history-making group into shape as they became one of the most successful music families and household names.

ABC, 1992


“Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B”

As much as we love the artist affectionately known as “Baby Girl,” this movie was an entire fail. Aaliyah’s family and estate have consistently been protective of anything that bears her name and we understood wholeheartedly with this production. The casting was so bad, it even inspired the viral hashtag #LiftimeBeLike. If you’re into watching train wrecks while tweeting, this one’s for you.

Lifetime, 2014


“CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story”

In just casting alone, this was a definite winner. Niatia “Lil Mama” Kirkland, Keke Palmer, and Drew Sidora actually resembled their relief characters of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez, Chilli, and T-Boz. And, Lil Mama played her so well, she had folks wondering if she should have been an actress rather than a rapper.

Lifetime, 2013


“The Simone Biles Story: Courage To Soar”

This is a must-watch simply to learn more about Biles’ journey to becoming the most decorated gymnast in the U.S. and the third most decorated gymnast in the entire world. The story is based on Biles’ autobiography, “Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life In Balance.”

Lifetime, 2019


“Life Is Not a Fairytale: The Fantasia Barrino Story”

This film just came too soon for the former American Idol finalist. We’re sure it was meant to position her for stardom as we learned about her rags-to-riches story. But, her real-life happenings since then have definitely provided some more scandalous than-reality-TV movements that could have had us glued to our devices.

Lifetime, 2006

About Stephenetta (isis) Harmon

Stephenetta Harmon is a Black beauty editor, curator, and digital media and communications expert who builds platforms to celebrate the power, impact, and business of Black beauty. She is former EIC for Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (2018-19) and currently serves as digital media director for Hype Hair. She is founder of Sadiaa Black Beauty Guide, the premier directory dedicated to Black-owned hair and beauty businesses. Find her at stephenetta.com.

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