Descendants Up In Arms Over Miscasting For “Nina” Simone Biopic

By Lora Neng
September 28, 2012

Race and aesthetics are always topics of contention in the entertainment business, especially when it comes to Hollywood biopics honoring great legends of the past. Nina Simone was an inimitable Blues singer and civil rights activist, and her reported portrayal by the former “Avatar” actor Zoe Saldana has a number of people feeling sour.

Saldana’s slenderness and light complexion as a Dominican-Puerto Rican were the most audible objections. Simone’s daughter Kelly told the New York Times, “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark” and challenged that for “hours she practiced preparing to audition for the Curtis Institute of Music only to be rejected because of the color of her skin.” The late luminary’s brother, Nyack musician Sam Waymon, also objected to the lack of resemblance. Although the public at-large has not commented on Saldana’s acting chops, they simply do not believe she could convey the extraordinary experience of Simone’s resilience where the fight against prejudice because of her appearance played such a deep-seated role in her musical and activist career.

The issue of race oozed especially thick in Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” “Four Women,” and “Backlash Blues,” and she stood by her  hair and tribal-inspired jewelry. Her depiction in “Nina” is expected to begin shooting in mid-October.

Writer-director Cynthia Mort insists that the film will not be a biography but “a love story about an artist’s journey unto herself.” Mary J. Blige was formerly expected to play the role of Nina.

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2 Comments for “Descendants Up In Arms Over Miscasting For “Nina” Simone Biopic”

  1. Dmanz

    First off- Zoe Zaldana is darker than the “illuminated” photo shows her to be, but the truth is- SHE DOESN’T identify herself as “black”, regardless of her true genetics!! Saldana like many “afro hispanics” identify as HISPANIC and down play their african roots. I will say its an INSULT to the memory of Nina Simone, a woman with unique features and a far away, yet focussed look in her eyes, as well as an intensity in her music, to put the “flavor of the month” in this role. Mary J probably didn’t get it becuase she doesn’t have the acting chops( but does Salanda??? “Colombiana???!!! Really ????!!!”) I’d rather see anglicized Thandie Newton play goddess Nina ……

  2. James Nelson

    Plain and simple, you can always tell when the Hollywood machine is trying to make someone a “star”. How this honor came to be bestowed upon Mrs. Saldana is a puzzle, and I don’t fault her for taking advantage of it, but Zoe Saldana seems to be the first choice for any part that features an ethnic female lead. Very similar to the days when Hollywood would have room for only one black male lead for decades.

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