Earlier this month the producers of the upcoming Nina Simone biopic starring Zoe Saldana released the film trailer, and a lot of criticism has resurfaced since its viewing.
“Nina” will star Saldana from “Avatar” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” as the late singer and civil rights activist and David Oyelowo from “Selma” and “The Butler” as Simone’s nurse and manager. The film will be a depiction of Simone’s rise to fame with a particular focus on the last eight years of her life.
The film has been shrouded in controversy since the announcement of the Saldana casting back in 2012. But in recent weeks, since the trailer’s release, the outcry of disapproval has been especially high.
Saldana and the producers of the film have been receiving large amounts of backlash for their choice in casting Saldana as Simone. The issue Simone fans have with the Saldana casting is that she is not black enough, and too light-skinned to portray the role.
Saldana, an Afro-Latina actress of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent has expressed her excitement for the role and fondness of Simone. She said in an April 2013 issue of Latina, “I was already a part of this project and my priority was Nina, and the love that I feel for this woman, for her music and what she left us. Let’s all give ourselves a chance to watch it and then make a decision.”
Even with the amount of objection she has faced, Saldana continues to promote the film and ensure fans she put her all into portraying Simone.
Simone’s estate made it clear that their stance on the upcoming film in a number of Twitter posts. One post slamming Saldana read, “@zoesaldana Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”
The trailer shows the complete transformation, which has been compared to blackface, that was done to make Saldana bear a resemblance to the jazz singer. Saldana wears skin-darkening makeup to make her appear darker, nasal prosthetics to make her nose appear wider, and veneers that restructured the shape of the actress’s mouth.
Following the trailer’s release, Simone’s estate also posted to Twitter, “Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful, Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing. It shall pass, but for now…”
In a 2015 InStyle interview, the actress revealed that she originally did not think she was right for the role. But who is to say Saldana, who has been nominated for several NAACP Image Awards, is not right for the role? Saldana has gone from small independent film actress to being regarded as one of Hollywood’s elites. She continues to surprise filmgoers by being a versatile actress.
One would argue that, as a woman of color, Saldana was another directly affected by the path that was graciously paved by Simone. Simone was famously known for loving her African roots, the same roots from which Saldana has grown. To trivialize the casting choice as her not being “black enough” is not only unfair to Saldana, but Simone as well.
Saldana has been receiving support from fellow black actresses, including Queen Latifah, Paula Patton, and surprisingly, Simone’s daughter, who has been very vocal throughout the whole ordeal. Latifah said, “I think Zoe Saldana is a great actress, so I am looking forward to it. She is of African descent-I don’t see why she shouldn’t play the role. I just want to see it. Get rid of the hype and let’s go watch a movie.”
In an interview with TIME, Simone’s daughter explained that she was not supportive of the film, but does not blame Saldana.
She said, “It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture. It’s clear she brought her best to this project, but unfortunately, she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.”
Another controversy surrounding the film is the producers continuing without the permission of Simone’s estate. Cynthia Mort, the director of the biopic, filed suit against the production team, claiming she was cut out of all of the decision making. Although her name is still on the film, she is unhappy to be associated with it because she had no say.
A much bigger issue fans of Simone should be worrying themselves with is whether or not Simone’s story will be told properly. It is groundbreaking to have a film centered around a black female civil rights activist. Simone’s story is undoubtedly one that needs to be told, not just for black women, but all races and genders.
The film is set to be released on Friday, April 22.
Teah Blades is a student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. They can be reached at TB770833@wcupa.edu