WTF?! Zoe Saldana Replacing Mary J. Blige As Nina Simone In Biopic?

August 14, 2012  |  



I’m pretty sure Nina Simone made that face as she turned over in her grave at this news.

Just putting it out on the table, no one was overly eager about Mary J. Blige playing the legendary Nina Simone in a movie about the singer/songwriter/ pianist/activist’s intriguing life in the first place, but finding out that Zoe Saldana could be taking over her part is just, well, like, WTF?

No official announcement has been made, but Shadow and Act has confirmed the news which was shared by one of their readers with two sources, including a crew member who is supposed to be working on the project. As far as those individual’s are concerned, the part is as good as Zoe’s.

There’s just so much to say about this cast change. On one hand, the directors are going with an actual actress, which 99 percent of the time is a good thing considering how quick the industry is to throw a role to a singer instead of someone who has actually honed the craft of acting. On the other hand, Nina Simone was a jazz singer, this may have been one of those instances where a person who can actually sing should get the part. Maybe. The bigger issue, though, that I’m sure is slapping everyone in the face is a lighter-skinned woman portraying a dark-skinned icon yet again.

People told us to let it slide when Harriet Tubman was turned into a mulatto in that fictitious Abraham Lincoln movie but this is a biopic. If you can’t even be true the woman’s skin tone what else are they going to take creative license with? And why is it never a priority to maintain that element of one’s character, and always a priority to make one lighter than they really are? I know, I know, I already know that complex answer.

I’ll give the team behind this project the benefit of the doubt and assume Viola Davis, Kimberly Elise, Anika Noni Rose, Adepero Oduye, and every other stellar brown-skinned actress who we haven’t seen in a main role in ages and who could take this part and make it amazing was busy the last time they had a brainstorming meeting. With no formal announcement coming out yet, let’s hope they go back to the drawing board and think this through. Right now this sounds like a fail.


More on Madame Noire!

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
  • Pingback: Nina Simone's daughter speaks further about upcoming biopic | Film News | SoulCulture()

  • blackroses

    Sorry, i don’t buy this for a second. Zoe must have another role in the movie, but there’s no way she’s playing Nina Simone. So until i see concrete proof and not he say she say, i’m sticking to my opinion

  • Ayashe

    I think that role is made for India Arie. She talented, very similar in many ways, and she should get the opportunity to portray this music icon.

  • i don’t see it she just don’t scream nina. Sorry columbiana you need more people

  • Whoa. If this is true, I don’t even know what to say. Nina’s Simone’s skin color and appearance where an important part of the impact of her artistry — the pic above says it all (afro, etc). She was impacted by Black Power and afrocentricity as James Brown, or John Coltrane… I cannot believe this, and I’m a mix-raced Black woman. This is WRONG!

  • pisces228

    Blasphemous. I wrote the production company when they hired Mary J. Blige to tell them she was completely wrong, and that Erykah Badu would be the right choice. She even looked like the young Nina in Miss Badu also has the poetic, emotional depth needed to portray Nina. Looks like they went from bad to worse. Nina would not be impressed.

  • newsjunkie

    I’ve seen conflicting reports about this casting. Some articles claim that she’s just joining the picture and other articles claim that she will be playing Nina Simone. It wouldn’t be the first time reports jumped the shark. I think if they decide to go forward with the biopic of Nina Simone, the most obvious choice would be Viola Davis. S/N: Zoe has always stated that she’s black. From her IMDB profile: “I’m like, “No! Let’s get it straight, yo soy una mujer negra.” (“I am a black woman.”)

  • Omg, HEATHER HEADLEY would have been PERFECT for this part. She started off as an actress on Broadway and the sista can blow! Come on now! Zoe? Really?

    • Heck, even Lauryn Hill could have had a comeback with this. She’s an actress/singer. Im sure she could use the money too

      • cleo

        lauryn hill would be amazing in this!

  • Soulsis

    ZOEY CAN SING!!! I still think there is a better fit for this role and I don’t think it is Zoey however I am a fan of her skillset.

  • Rayna

    Adepero Oduye or Viola Davis would’ve been perfect. Mary J. Blige should have never been considered for the film in the first place. I like Zoe but let’s be real. She’s a fair skinned dominicana. Why would she be considered for this role?

  • Char

    Some actresses are turned down for roles because they are too dark. Most of the people that visit this site would agree that this is wrong, because the HUE OF YOUR SKINTONE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH with your QUALITIES as a performer/ actress etc. Why do you then think it is okay to state that Zoe Saldana is not fit for the role of Nina Simone because she is “too light”??? It is not okay, since Zoe is BLACK, like we are all BLACK and not light skin and dark skin.. This division has got to stop !! I think that what is stated about Zoe not being fit for the role because she is “too light” is just as RACIST, as stating that somebody is not fit for a role because they are “too dark”!! Come on! And do your research please.., a lighter skintone does not have to mean that you are of less “african” origin or of mixed heritage. West Africans (in diaspora) come in all hues… !

    • soulsis

      I think when it comes to fiction then you have a reasonable point but this is a biopic and part of Nina’s struggles were directly related to how she looked (her skin tone and her hair). India Aire would be a wonderful choice in terms of look and sound but acting- I don’t know.

  • IllyPhilly

    Craft is dead! Whoever can bring in a packed house, gets the deal.

  • CarlaKah

    EPIC FAIL! trained actress that can sing (someone who preferably has down shows on BROADWAY) should do it! And the complexion is important because we dark-skinned black women need one of our heroes to come alive on the screen. There are enough qualified women to do the job. Sorry Zoe but please let this one go….

  • Char

    This darkskin vs light skin thing has got to stop ! When are you even considered to be lightskin or darkskin? Come on people.. We’re BLACK !!! Zoe is a great actress,…are you telling me that even though she is black, she can’t play the role because she is a couple of hues lighter? Please.. That’s ridiculous!

    • CarlaKah

      She isn’t a singer

  • Olivie

    Thumbs down to Mary and Zoe. Audra McDonald would be a good pick. She shares some similarities with Nina Simone, she’s eloquent, and she sings beautifully.

    • CarlaKah

      Audra McDonald would be perfect!

  • A.J.

    I don’t have anything against her personally, but if they do go with Zoe Saldana, I don’t know if I will see the movie. It’s a shame, because we were waiting for something to be made about Nina Simone. She cannot sing, she looks nothing like her, and she has none of the attitudes or mannerisms that made up Nina Simone’s spark. I agree that India.Arie would be an excellent candidate, along with Viola Davis, Anika Noni Rose, or Regina King. A large part of Nina Simone’s struggle was due to her complexion, her hair, and her features. To have an actress that doesn’t embody any of that just makes no sense. Also, I feel like Zoe Saldana decides to be/play Black when it’s convenient for her, while identifying strongly as a Latina at other times (I know that one can be both). With the way she looks, she can’t deny her Black ancestry. I wonder if we’d be hearing more about her involvement in “Black” films if her skin were a little lighter, and her features different.

    • CarlaKah

      * India Arie would be perfect! She already played Nina Simone in American Dreams in 2003!* Viola Davis would be great! Actress + Broadway experience!* Anika Noni Rose amazing in Dreamsgirls! Actress + singer!* Regina King, amazing actress+ diverse. Don’t know how her singing is* Kimberly Elise, great actress , I don’t know how her singing is

  • psylocke_2001

    I’m disappointed with this choice, no shade to Zoe Saldana, but I agree with the other suggestions that were made in the article.

  • .

    I think Lauryn Hill should get the role of playing Nina Simone. She can sing and act. I loved her in Sister Act II.

  • blackmoses

    Though there are better choices than Saldana, (a) she is a star, and star power means everything in getting a film made and (b) God bless Mary J, but she’s no one’s actress. Saldana doesn’t need to be a singer if there’s enough real Simone tapes on file and/or they hire a good singing ghost.

  • Machelle Kwan

    Zoe Zaldana really doesn’t even impress me in the least bit as an actress. She was horrible in drum line and she can’t even lose that bougie accent of hers.

  • kizzy

    Who is to say they won’t darken Zoe’s skin for the role they made Jamie Foxx blind for Ray. Furthermore Zoe is an excellent actress she gives 110% in every movie i have seen her in. its a movie not real life ! did anyone complain when Halle Berry played Josephine Baker? (halle is darker than Josephine was) who cares about color

    • .

      Halle Berry did not play Josephine Baker. She played Dorthy Dandrige. Lynn Whitfield played Josephine Baker. Both women ( Halle and Lynn) resembled the women they were suppose to play and did a great job at it. If you don’t believe me, just google.

  • Machelle Kwan

    This is the craziest thing i’ve ever heard. She looks nothing like Nina Simone. Plus she’s latino. Wow. There’s a plenty of dark skinned Sisters that could play this lady properly.

  • Tina

    What’s next?
    Thandie Newton playing Harriet Tubman.

  • Aza

    Omg, India Arie would be PERFECT
    .. also Viola Davis would be amazing as well. But Zoe, not really feeling that. No offense to the actress she just doesn’t fit. I want to see the darker skin actresses getting to meaty roles.

  • DoinMe

    Zoe playing Nina Simone?? Naaawww. That won’t work at all. It’s not believable in the least bit.

  • dontdoit

    This is really interesting since I don’t remember one out cry from any outlet when Denzel Washington played Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s movie. Denzel looked nothing like Malcolm X in features or skin color. Would this be any different???

    • kizzy

      actually Denzel Washington did look similar to Malcolm X his facial expressions and hair coloring did the part justice or maybe he was just that great of an actor that color didn’t matter

    • I thought they looked pretty similar

  • Dee Dee

    I think they should introduce some new blood…this kind of biopic can make a career and I think they should really take the time out and search for the perfect person for the part…Miss Simone deserves it!

  • enoughsaid

    They are just going with an accomplished actress that the feel will bring people to the box office, at the end of the day its about money.

  • bits

    wait zoe zaldana isn’t even black right? she’s dominican. and everybody knows that even though most dominicans are clearly black they never want to be associated with the black race. oh but then again there is a hollywood check involved.

    • Enemencio

      Why don’t you take your anti-Dominican bigotry somewhere else?

      • bits

        hey dont get mad at me the truth is the truth.

        • Enemencio

          What he wrote is a hateful stereotype, and not the truth.

  • jaimuziq

    This chick only claims to be part black when it’s convenient, next.

  • L-Boogie

    I agree with Nya. India Arie would of been a better choice. Personally, I do not like when Whites plays roles of other minorities. Let’s not make that same mistake.

  • Who is responsible for this so that we can go straight to the source with our concerns?! Nina Symone was a pioneer of the Black Power movement, are they going to leave that part out too? Will they leave out the lynchings that she spoke out against? In other roles skin color may not be as big an issue but NINA FOUGHT AGAINST COLORISM

  • am

    Color has a lot to do with everything. They are not going to pick Mary to play Madonna in a bio. You should definitly pick those actors who closely resemble each other for a bio. I don’t care if you are light, brown or dark if you son’t fit the actual persons life why should you have the role.

  • StayTrueToThee

    Excellent points!!! Zoe does not sing and identifies herself as a latina. To my knowledge Nina Simone was not a latina and nor should she be portrayed by one. She was a sister of the darker hue so it’s not accurate for someone who is not to have the role!!!!

  • sammi_lu

    Viola Davis if they want to go with an actual actress..India Arie closer fit complexion and singing wise than MJB.

  • lady

    Zoe is not that light skin god… stop separating us

    • no ma’am

      That was my thought too. Wow!

      • But Nina SImone was “black. black” you really cant compare the complexions

  • Viola Davis should be a shoe in for this role…

  • noneya

    Mary J Blige cant act or sing!! Most actors lip sync in bio pics, just ask Angela Bassett, I can see Viola or Kimberly Elise in this role not MJB or Zoe!

  • Nya

    I agree with the actress suggestions of (Viola Davis, Kimberly Elise, Anika Noni Rose, Adepero Oduye maybe even Angela Bassett) and also would like to add that if they want a singer even India Arie should be considered. I think Zoe would make a good choice for her daughter as well.

    • karen

      I like the idea of India Arie, she can sing better then MJB in my opinion!

      • L-Boogie

        Plus, she looks a little like her.

      • Good call. I forgot all about India.

      • she would be great

    • amanda

      I tink India Arie would make an excellent choice to play Nina Simone!

  • Guest360

    I….don’t know how I feel about this. Zoe is an amazing actress but she looks nothing like Nina Simone and I don’t think she’s a singer either. Unless they’re going to have someone else sing during the movie. Mary J Blige, while an amazing singer, can’t act her way out of a paper bag. Is there anyway to combine the two of them? Lol.

    • She’s not an amazing actress imo. She’s an ok actress with a pretty face.

  • john

    A big part of Nina Simone’s struggle was because she was dark skinned so it does make sense to have a dark skinned actress play her. What is wrong with that?

  • Just Sayin’

    I’m actually pleased to see an Actress be asked to play Nina Simone instead of a Singer being given the part. As much as I respect Mary J. Blige, she’s not an actress; that’s not her craft. Why not allow Zoe Saldana (or any other real actress for that matter) the part in this film?

    • MzTeaze

      It would be one thing if Zoe was asked to play A part in the movie..but it’s an entirely different thing for her to play Nina Simone. Not just from a resemblance issue (there is none) and even skin tone issues…do we expect her to play Nina in black face and a wig?

    • Lisa

      Have you ever listened to a Nina Simone song? When she sings you FEEL every emotion she sings about. Whoever plays her needs to embody Nina’s spirit and I just don’t see Mary or Zoe being able to do it. I think Viola could do it but I think India Aria could make us see Nina.

  • CutieReppinNY

    Well duh, y’all know there can only be one black “it” actor/actress at a time. Zoe and Idris are it for now. Any major role that requires a black person will go to them. Sad, but true, just think about it for a minute.

    • Mia

      Maybe Idris could play Nina? LOL Sorry, I had too!

    • StayTrueToThee

      You are so on point with that and the really annoying part is she doesn’t consider herself black but latina. She really shouldn’t be snagging roles of a race she doesn’t think she’s a part of!!!!!

      • sammi_lu

        but she is latina..she shouldn’t have to choose to identify as black if her culture and roots are clearly hispanic. Growing up I remember having two sets of friends and had to decide daily if I was hanging with the black girls or latinas bc of my dark skin tone but culturally different upbringing at home. I’m sure Zoe knows that she is black but she doesn’t have to drop the fact that she is latina as well.

        • StayTrueToThee

          Yes she is Latina, but Nina Simone was not!!!!!!!!!

          • sammi_lu

            Agree..I think she is .about as fitting for this role as Halle Berry playing Aretha.

        • Karen

          Actually, Zoe is considered a BLACK LATINA, because her skin is black she certainly isn’t Latina in the JLo since, appears White!

          • sammi_lu

            Exactly..what I’m saying is I’m sure she identifies as a black latina but when u leave the “latina” off its not an accurate representation of what or who she sees herself as.

        • Char

          I’m not American, so guys please explain… who do you consider Latina???? Haiti and the Dominican Republic (where Zoe is from) is basically this one tiny island! Yes, the Domican Republic was predominantly colonized by Spain, so they speak spanish, and have some typical hispanic things within their culture…but for the most part it’s Afro- Carribean culture!! Just like Haiti, Jamaica , Trinidad and all of those other islands have Afro- Carribean culture !!! “African in diaspora” culture resulted in HIP HOP and Jazz for the US, but in salsa and merengue and reggae etc for the carribean islands! To now state that she is not fit for the role because the boat dropped her ancestors of in the Domican Republic, and yours in the US sounds weird to me!! Let’s stop this division…! We (well most of us commenting on this website) are all Africans (in Diaspora)! We are all BLACK !! And beatiful!!!

          • sammi_lu

            Zoe is half Dominican and half Puerto Rican..and yes both islands have Afro Carribean culture.. the entire demographic is not. If you have been to Haiti and DR you can clearly see the very distinct differences in culture, language, food, and music and we share an island. To lump all of the Carribean islands together as one culture is a misrepresentation. Jamaica the same as Puerto Rico? The Bahamas the same as Cuba? No way..Cuba, Puerto Rico, and DR are all considered latin countries with both white and black race within. I agree that we are all of African descent but as you stated..where the “boat” dropped our ancestors off is what we know as home..what we identify as. Just as blacks in America are just that..Americans..and when they visit another country they are still Americans and should they decide to relocate permanently to that country doesn’t change the fact that they are black or African Americans. Her being afro latina..latina..or whatever she identifies as shouldn’t have a thing to do with her portraying a black woman but as I stated the fact that she looks nothing like Nina Simone is what has me skeptical.

            • Char

              I’m not saying Cuban culture is the same as Jamaican etc.., I’m saying that it’s all African (in diaspora) culture. We agree that the fact that she is latina should have nothing to do with the fact that she was asked to portray a African American woman, since Carribean Latino culture is predominantly black culture. But however, most people claim that she can’t play Nina because she is a couple of hues lighter, and that I think is ridiculous ! Nina Simone herself was more than her skintone right? So why should it be about skintone with the woman that’s portraying her? Let the discussion be about wether are not she is good enough as an actress, or able to sing like NIna etc.., not about skintone!! Are there other qualified black actresses? Certainly! But wether they qualify or not should be based on their acting abilities and not on the color of their skin. Like I stated before, that to me also sounds like racism,

    • anonymous

      but Zoe is not black…at all shes puerto rican & dominican…both could be traced back to certain african american blood lines…but in the end her ethnicity is not black which is why i don’t understand how she is the black “it” girl smh

      • Karen

        Her ethnicity is Latin and her race is black…she appear/looks black!

  • marie

    zoe is darker than mary j…….

  • Missypooh

    Being a fair skin sister as myself, it sickens me that we always make it dark vs light. Zoe CANNOT help the fact shes light, so what she isn’t supposed to work because of her cause of her color?? Light Brown is still BROWN. How about we blame the movie industry for not giving ALL blacks more movie roles. Trust me white folks don’t care what shade of black you are, you’re still BLACK. We are the dummies for feeding into that mess. smh.

    • Mia

      It’s the point that the role is for Nina Simone. I’m not sure what a “fair skin” black person looks like, but I wouldn’t call Zoe light skinned. Keeping it real, whoever plays Nina Simone needs to be dark skinned because Nina Simone was dark skinned.

    • IncogneGLO

      Did you really get “she isn’t supposed to work” because she’s “light” out of that article? Really? Okay…

    • bkabbagej

      Sure, if you’re of a lighter hue you would believe that the shade of a sister skin doesn’t really matter to white folks…but if you look at advertising, movies, magazines, commercials, business execs and anything else where our looks are concerned our darker hued sisters and brothers features and complexion are never celebrated. Where exactly do you think this self loathing and hatred comes from? How did we basically become so diversified in our complexions, one sister can pass for white and another can be as dark as the richness of the earth? Give me a break, sure we shouldn’t act this way towards each other but please don’t act as though this doesn’t exist and it doesn’t matter, especially to white folks. Very sad but very true!

      • Yvette

        I know first hand just how ignorant people can be when it comes to skin color. I too am a lighter skinned sister. My mother was Nina Simone’s complextion, well my mom was actually a little darker than Nina and I can not tell you how much it would hurt me when people saw me and my mother together and would assume she wasn’t my mother simply because she was darker than me even though I look just like her and would sometimes say cruel things to us and about us. @noneya you are right on point. I have lived this and it is still painful to know just how ridiculous some folks are when it comes to skin color.

    • Nisa

      @Missypooh…I think the comments about Zoe are directed at the movie industry, although I would love to hear how she thinks she can truthfully portray Nina’s story. To fully understand, perhaps you need to do a little research on Nina Simone and her struggles in the industry and personal struggles. Her looks, appearance and skin have a lot to do with who she was and became. It is a terrible injustice to her life story to have an actress who either physically or with their craft, cannot embody her story with accuracy. While I think Mary would be a ‘good look’ for the movie for various reasons, she is not as dark skinned as Nina was. But her personal story can help bring Nina’s story to life, provided her acting skills are up to par.

    • A.J.

      First of all, we did not start this whole “light skin vs. dark skin” mess. The issue here is not whether she should be denied a role because of her complexion. It’s that 1.) Hollywood has shown disdain towards darker-skinned actors (despite our protests) and 2.) The part that she is up for, Nina Simone, was a dark-skinned woman, point blank period. Yes, Zoe Saldana can act, but why couldn’t they find someone with the acting chops who also features Nina Simone? We’re all Black at the end of the day, but the truth is that lighter skin gets put on a pedestal in our society.

  • bri

    From what I read Zoe Saldana is supposed to play her daughter.