Even The New York Times Knows Something Is Odd About Zoe Saldana In The Nina Simone Biopic

September 14, 2012  |  

Source: Blackfilmisbeautiful.com and IMDB

The blackosphere has been pining over the choice of Zoe Saldana for a movie based on the life of Nina Simone for some time now, but the New York Times is attempting to get to the bottom of all the backlash — and the casting choice — in a new report.

The article notes that the angst over the placement of a lighter-skinned Afro-latina woman who doesn’t sing in a film about the life of a dark-skinned jazz artist from the south isn’t limited to mere discussions over the Internet. A petition has been started to replace Zoe with an actress who actually looks like Nina.  Cynthia Mort, the writer and director of the film, isn’t looking to oblige. As the Times reports:

According to Ms. Mort, who is white, the film was not intended to be a biography in the strict sense, but instead “a love story about an artist’s journey unto herself,” she said.

“There’s a difference,” she added, “between telling a story that includes and involves emotion and experiences and doing a biopic — she was born here, she did this, she did that. That is also a great story, but that’s not what we’re telling in that kind of linear fashion.”

Ms. Mort said that she was still in the process of confirming whether Ms. Saldana would play Simone. David Oyelowo will play Simone’s companion and love interest, a composite character based on Simone’s manager and caretaker, Clifton Henderson.

The singer Mary J. Blige was first cast to play Simone until she had to bow out for what Ms. Mort described as “scheduling issues,” though Ms. Blige said publicly she had spent years preparing for the role. The rumors of Ms. Saldana’s casting prompted Simone’s daughter, Simone Kelly, to write a note to her mother’s fans on the official Nina Simone Facebook page. Ms. Kelly, who was born Lisa Celeste Stroud, said that the project was unauthorized, and that Simone’s estate had not been asked permission or been asked to participate in the film.

“My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark,” Ms. Kelly said in an interview. “Appearance-wise this is not the best choice,” she added, referring to Ms. Saldana.

Ms. Kelly, who described herself as a fan of Ms. Saldana’s work, said she would have preferred to see actresses like Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise. She added that her mother’s own choice to play her was Whoopi Goldberg.

Ms. Kelly also took issue with the creative license taken by Ms. Mort’s script, particularly the story line that Simone had a romantic relationship with Mr. Henderson. In the Facebook post Ms. Kelly wrote: “Clifton Henderson was gay. He was not attracted to women. So, the truth is … Nina Simone and Clifton Henderson NEVER had a relationship other than a business one.”

Ms. Mort described Mr. Henderson’s character as “a composite of many different loves and aspects of love in Nina’s life.”

It appears Ms. Mort is taking a number of creative licenses with the making of “Nina,” none of which scholar yaba Blay approves of. She told the Times:

“The power of her aesthetics was part of [Nina Simone’s] power. This was a woman who prevailed and triumphed despite her aesthetic.” Dark-skinned actresses are “already erased from the media, especially in the role of the ‘it girl’ or the love interest.”

What do you think about the director’s explanation for Zoe Saldana’s casting?

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  • This shows once again many people have no respect for black culture and history. I am sick and tired of people becoming black history revisionists. Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone? Really? There is not a single damn thing about Zoe Saldana that reflects Nina Simone ( not on any level). Nina Simone was pro black, and went through struggles and often sang about those experiences. Zoe is nothing like that. And don’t get me started on all the falsehoods the director has tried to masquerade as truth. Hiring an uncle tom to play as a powerful, strong black woman is insulting. What’s next? Nicole Ritchie as Harriet Tubman?

  • Zaire

    I Love Nina Simone there is no way I will support this mass distortion of her imagine with contributed to being Nina – that would be like J-Lo playing Michelle Obama, can not happen.

  • The fantasy movie being made is just that “fantasy”aka fiction! This movie is marginally based off of Ms Nina Simone’s business manager’s book so whatever he said in his book it will be in the movie. From what I have read her manager who died of aids was a homosexual in a long term relationship with his partner for many years. So were the love interest story line of them being lovers comes in is a mystery to her daughter & many fans & close personal friends. Ms. Nina Simone’s was a devote Christian according to her family & friends & did not believe in homosexuality again her family & friends are not sure why the writer is going in the direction of putting them as lovers. When this writer & director say’s she doesn’t care what ppl think about what she is doing to the image of this black woman who suffered under discrimination for her skin tone it is a slap in the face to Nina Simone’s, her legacy, her music & who she was as a African American female living in a racist society that told her she was ugly! This writer/director does’t care about how she will defame the name of Nina Simone or her life by producing a movie of conjecture & not truth which is the norm for Hollyweird;.so I’m not surprised Zoe was cast as the lead.

  • toasty

    BOYCOTT! This white trick is crazy if she thinks she’s going to get away with this! She wants to use the double whammy of Nina’s name and Zoe’s ‘it’ girl status to make her money. That’s called having her cake and eating it! She can’t have them both – she’s gone have to choose one or the other. And it’s very scaly that the film is called ‘Nina’, seeing as it is not going to be factual in its depiction of Nina’s life events. Beyond dodgy director – no integrity at all. Excuse my ‘black’ english, I’m actually very educated. Lol

  • usuntola

    I agree. They don’t look alike. I don’t think she is a good fit for the part either. I have a problem with someone saying that Zoe isn’t black. Who decides who is black and who isn’t? The largest numbers of Africans living in the diaspora live in South America. Are they black? The general population loves the paint brown women as being ignorant and narrow minded. The aforementioned comment is just that, ignorant. I’m not co-signing on Jennifer Hudson either. I wanted to stab myself in the neck every time those weightwatchers commercials came on. I’m all for discussing or debating the QUALITY of the actress chosen. “Blackness,” shouldn’t be a part of the debate!

    • Miss Anonymous

      Im not sure you will have to ask them that themselves. They might say “yes I have african roots but Im not black”. I know a girl who looks like a regular black girl but she speaks spanish. She said out of her mouth she is a Latina (her parents are from Honduras) not black but a Latina.

      If Zoe say she black, then she is black.

  • gmarie

    She should then remove Nina Simone’s name from the project and make an original film in likeness to her story. But if you aren’t gonna tell the story right don’t bother.

  • Tia

    Give the role to Lauren Hill – she NEEDS it!

  • Just saying!!


  • serenity1125

    This is the WRONG ACTRESS for this role. Will not waste my money going to see this movie.

  • Yah

    Saladana and Simone are almost the same shade, if we go by the picture on Madame Noire, and they are of the same race. Plus, as pointed out by a commentor in the NY Times piece, actors and actresses regularly play roles that are completely different from themselves – i.e. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos.

    The difference is not so dramatic for Saladana – both the actress and the subject of the movie are Black, albeit of slightly different skin shadings, but that can be easily remedied with a small amount of makeup. Also might I point out that a Black-Asian man (Marcus Chong) played Huey Newton in Panther in the 90’s film “Panther” and nobody complained about that.

    Afterall, Zoe Saldana is not light-skinned – i dont know why people keep saying that. Someone made the comparison to having Michale Ealy play the Notorious B.I.G., but that’s inaccurate – the shading difference is not as dramatic between Saldana and Simone as between those two.

    A good actress can capture the essence of any personality – the only test Saldana has to pass is of her acting ability.


  • LoveleiJai

    According to Ms. Mort, who is white, the film was not intended to be a biography in the strict sense, but instead “a love story about an artist’s journey unto herself,” she said.
    If it’s not intended to be a biography and you are not properly respecting the attributes that aided in this artist’s monumental acheivement, then REMOVE her name from the movie and focus on a “made-up” artist and their “made-up” love story! You’re a creative writer so it shouldn’t be too hard. 99.9% of the work is completed, all you need to do is REMOVE the Nina Simone affiliation. Stop trying to gain notarity by affixing her name to it. ESPECIALLY without the “buy-in” of her estate!

  • SunnyOne

    Lauryn Hill can sing & act she might be a good choice

  • Machelle Kwan

    It’s really sad how they falsify our black images and rewrite our history. If they changed the way she looked, they’ll probably change her story too. I just discovered Nina Simone a few years ago and I want to know more about this interesting person. But I’m sure I won’t get what I ‘m looking for in this made up story. No thanks.

  • Inquiring-minds-want-to-know

    I for one will NOT waste my hard earned money on this movie. Not to take anything away from Ms. Saldana, but why can’t a BLACK WOMAN play the role of a BLACK WOMAN???

    • Usuntola

      Ms. Saldana is a BLACK WOMAN. A very proud black woman. We come in all shades, from different countries and we speak thousands of languages. I can see why someone would have an issue with a non-musician playing a singer. However, please don’t disrespect her because she doesn’t fit your definition of Black; whatever that is.

      • Ms. Saldana acknowledges that she is Latino not Africa America or black! She acknowledges that she is an artist that can play any role she chooses to portray. Right now playing black African American women is what she is getting paid to play! Not many roles for Latino’s especially women which are not coming out of the wood works in Hollyweird. Just look at Columbiana it was a box office flop which shows what America thinks of Latino’s in terms of box office draw.That box office flop sent a big message to the masses – Latino is not end! Hollywood thought Saldana could pull it off drawing in viewership but she didn’t as she didn’t pull off playing African Lieutenant Uhura in the new Star Trek movie. Ms. Saldana is the “new buzz” aka the “new African American black woman” with happens to be Latino & in right now! Ms. Saldana will do the role & get her paycheck & move on.

  • Oppie

    If Zoe had the part people would actually go see this movie. If Mary J Blige or Estelle or any other dark skinned woman got this role no one would see this movie. It would be a big bust!!

  • itsawonderfulworld

    I’m all for getting the best actress to play the role (and on occasion understand getting someone to play the role for likeness). I will say, I think it’s funny how people aren’t this adamant to petition non-actresses from acting when they know they are poorly cast. I understand Ms. Kelly’s frustration, but folks were up in arms when MJB was cast. It seems no one can play Nina but Nina. And as for the matter on whether or not the actress in question can or should sing: wasn’t Angela Basset nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Tina Turner and lip-synced on all the songs? Didn’t Halle Ber win a Golden Globe for playing Dorthy Dandridge and didn’t she, too, lip-sync? I understand the arguments over skin color, but regardless, I feel no one will be satisfied with who ever is chosen and if they do choose a good actress, I wouldn’t be shocked if there was an unknown chosen and folks didn’t pay to see it – despite their “love” for Nina. If Ms. Kelly wants an accurate biopic of her mom, why not gather the funds herself to produce such a film. She’s mentioned they’ve offered to help on this project; if you were interested in helping with this, then why not go out your way to create one of on your own. I’m sure people would be more than happy with the product produced as it would be authorized.

  • Whoppi Goldberg (or even Viola Davis) is a good choice to play Nina Simone, as mentioned in the article. Even Blige would have been a poor choice in my opinion. Nina fought relentlessly during her tenure on this earth against those who ridiculed her for her strong and afrocentric features. In my personal opinion, her defiance and subversion of dominant beauty norms is incredibly important to Simone’s legacy. If Saldana has any respect for Nina Simone or her legacy, she will refuse to be cast in this role. A woman who was a proudly defiant of conventional beauty norms cannot be reprsented by one who is an embodiment of those norms…

    • moonrose4me

      Perfectly stated!

  • FromUR2UB

    Whoever heard of making a fictional movie based on someone’s life? No, it’s not important that she begin the movie with a place and time caption, but if she truly respected the subject of her movie, she’d want to portray her as accurately as possible. 1) No amount of makeup and costuming in the world, is going to transform Zoe Saldana into Nina Simone 2) Even if she’s a great actress, I’m not sure she can overcome that because she seems so wrong for the role.
    If this director wanted to make a movie using Zoe Saldana, she should have found the right script for her. I like biopics, but since this one seems based more on fabrication than fact, I think I’ll pass on it.

  • casandra

    We are getting short changed again. The truth of the matter is, we need to own our production studios and produce and finance our own material. Money talks you know the rest.

  • bossipreader

    Since Ms. Kelly is not allowing any of Nina Simone’s music to be used for the movie I wonder whose music the director will use. Dusty Springfield, Rosemary Clooney!?

  • hiswomanandlovingit

    Am I the only one that thinks even Nina in the picture above is thinking aint this some bull?! Or in words that she would have actually said, “Mississippi Got Damn” (sorry I dont do the cussing).

  • Likklebit

    She’s too skinny to play the great Nina. I hope she adds some meat on dem bones.

  • Fresh45

    This is so ridiculous and just shows that hollywood is still very racist and discriminatory against black people because of the color of our skin. Regardless of what approach the director is taking to the movie,a movie about Nina Simone should be played by someone who at least looks a little bit like her. Zoe looks absolutely nothing like Ms.Simone. All of the discrimination Ms.Simone went through because of how she looked,it would be wrong and extremely disrespectful to make a movie about any part of her life; not have someone who has similar features as her.Since the director is white,she may not understand how big of a deal this is but truly hope she gets a clue finds someone else to play the role.

  • Beautiful Mic

    I don’t see the rational of making a film portraying the life of a legend, yet portraying inaccuracies, be it regarding the person’s physical characteristics or in their life story.

  • FromUR2UB

    AwwwWWW! Can’t India Arie act? Can Vanessa Williams (The Soul Food one) sing? I hate watching non-singers play musicians!

    • FromUR2UB

      The cable version of ‘Soul Food’. I’d forgotten that both Vanessa Williams have been associated with Soul Food, one the movie, and the other, the series.

  • Heather Headley, India Arie, N’Bushe Wright, Tika Sumpter. Amazing to me that an actress who has “mass appeal” (translation “not too black” is being cast at a time when black women of all complexions are running the world. If they ever make a move about the Obamas, y’all wanna bet that they’re going to cast Vanessa Williams? What drivel. I LOVE me some Nina Simone, but this will be a move that will NOT get my dollars. Nina’s story is important because she achieved the level of success she did DESPITE not passing the brown paper bag test. Ohhhhh…this pisses me off.

    • me too!

    • Agreed. The willing disrespect of Nina’s legacy sickens and disgusts me.

    • Wow, I hadn’t even thought of Heather Headley….YEEESSS, Heather would be perfection for this role.

  • IllyPhilly

    Why can’t MJB do it? NOPE not for Zoe playing her. Jhud? I can’t think of anyone else.

    • J.Hud cant act

      • IllyPhilly


      • NSimonefan

        @Wee Bey Brice Oh my goodness! Someone who was bold enough to say what a lot of people are thinking. In Dreamgirls, her “acting” mostly consisted of singing and being angry. Outside of that, in other roles she appears stiff. Look at her in the Sex and the City movie as an example. She’s a great singer. But when it comes to acting??? Her career skyrocketed due to sympathy and human sacrifice/illuminati style. There are true actresses who are passed over for roles that are given to her. Also, regarding the human sacrifice, it could be why she is so “forgiving” towards her family’s murderer. There’s more than what we see on the “surface” .

    • NSimonefan

      Mary J. Blige was a poor fit for playing Nina, even in this junk of a movie. Mary didn’t bow out due to scheduling difficulties. Nina’s daughter, Simone, put her foot down and demanded that Mary not be considered for the role after Mary lied and said that Nina used to be a drug addict. Simone said that her mother was never a drug addict and everyone who knows Nina, including long time fans, can vouch for that as well.

  • BP

    I’m all about creativity, but this is stretch, physical appearance aside.

    • BP*

      *a stretch

  • get real

    More light skin vs dark skin. Sigh. Smh. Slavery masters are high fiving each others in their graves for a their masterful divide and conquer scheme.

    • Adrian Willis

      This is more a question of Hollywood’s consistently choosing actresses which represent the Anglo ideal of beauty as opposed to some perceived disconnect between light and dark skinned African Americans. Would you have cast Michael Ealy to play Biggie?….of course not, and not because of the color of his skin, simply because it would be historically inaccurate. Great attention to hstorical accuracy should be paramount in any biopic.

      • exactly!

      • Kay

        AMEN *throws roses at your feet*

      • get real

        Does this still not play into the light skin is pretty and dark is ugly or negative???? Uh slavery. Hello.

    • NSimonefan

      “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark,” Ms. Kelly said in an interview. “Appearance-wise this is not the best choice,” she added, referring to Ms. Saldana.
      Ms. Kelly, who described herself as a fan of Ms. Saldana’s work, said she would have preferred to see actresses like Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise. She added that her mother’s own choice to play her was Whoopi Goldberg.

  • This director has some serious issues. Frankly, I want to know why she got picked to spearhead this movie, as she clearly doesn’t understand anything about Nina Simone. She knows that that justification for Zoe Saldana in the role doesn’t hold water. There’s a difference between taking creative license and perpetrating falsehoods; the latter seems to be the direction that this film is going in. If they actually do go through with this, we should not spend our money or our efforts to support it. We should no longer settle for what Hollywood perceives us to be, especially in this day and age.

  • Candacey Doris

    I love Zoe Saldana, i just don’t think she’s right for the role. If you can’t find anyone famous that fits, why not have an old fashioned casting call for dark women that can sing? There will be divas lined up across the country.

    • IllyPhilly

      Plus one!

    • C

      So true!

    • NEEMA

      i wish i could triple like this comment!!!!

  • jackieOsassin

    not wasting my money on this hollywood drivel. not saying zoe can’t act, but it’s the same argument japanese moviegoers had concerning “memoirs of a geisha” being lead casted with chinese actresses. if you’re going to make a movie about someone’s life, no matter how fantastical or speculated, at least stay true to the subject’s appearance. and even on the darkest night of the year with sunglasses on and auto-tune done to death, zoe is NOT NINA.

    • lola

      I agree. I now understand why people are angry Jennifer Hudson is playing Winnie Mandela and not a native South African!

      • Right! At least they (South African Women) would have the same accent, and make it more believable..

  • jaimuziq

    This director obviously doesn’t want to depict Nina Simone as she was so why should we waste our money to see this movie. This director obviously wasn’t a fan of Nina’s she’s just in it for the money.