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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