Nina Simone Portrayed in a New Controversial Biopic
By Shantal Rowe
The life of blues singer Nina Simone is hitting the big screen with the Cynthia Mort directed biopic, “Nina”, starring Zoe Saldana and David Oyelowo.
“Nina” tells the story of Simone’s resurgence after a battle with substance abuse and her unique relationship with manager Clifton Henderson.
Earlier this month, a trailer circulated online which left critics and fans alike disappointed—to say the least.
The Simone estate denounced the film with a snarky tweet aimed at Saldana, and they have publicly refused any affiliation.
While the Oscar nominated Netflix documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone,” received praise for its portrayal of Simone’s activism and artistry, “Nina” has been highly controversial since the early stages of production.
Rumblings of the film’s cast began in 2010, with Mary J. Blige and David Oyelowo set to play Simone and Henderson, respectively.
However, in 2012, “Avatar” actress Zoe Saldana, announced that she would be portraying Simone in the film.
The announcement came with heavy criticism given Saldana’s lack of resemblance to the songstress.
The actress herself noted the lack of physical similarities in an InStyle interview, where she expressed how she didn’t believe she was “right for the part.”
The project was further scrutinized as photos surfaced of Saldana on set with a prosthetic nose, afro, and theatrical makeup—which many perceived to be black face.
The trailer’s arrival has coincided with the recent backlash in Hollywood over a lack of diversity.
Critics have argued that the casting of Saldana, an Afro-Latina, versus an African-American actress, is a clear example of how film opportunities are often political.
Fans have also noted a slew of actresses, including, Viola Davis and Uzo Aduba, who could have portrayed Simone’s character more authentically.
Despite a majority of Simone’s estate dismissing the film and casting, Simone Kelly, the late singer’s daughter, has expressed a different sentiment. Kelly shared her opinion on the subject in a recent interview with TIME.
“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” she said. “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.”
Kelly also mentioned how the plot of the film is purely fictitious as Simone and Henderson, a gay man, never had a romantic relationship.
However, the film’s director is sticking by her work and feels as if “there’s a lot of good in it [that] people should see.”
While the drama surrounding the film has catapulted, many have chosen to keep the fiery words of the late singer alive, “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”
“Nina” will be released on April 22 in select theaters and through video on demand.