Don’t Knock It Until You See It: Celebs Who Were Side-Eyed For Biopics Because They Didn’t “Look” The Part

May 21, 2013  |  
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Before Zoe Saldana signed on to play Nina Simone, or Idris Elba said he would try his hand at doing Nelson Mandela, or even before there was any kind of talk of Lenny Kravitz playing Marvin Gaye (which he eventually changed his mind about), actors were getting major side-eyes from movie fans and critics alike for trying to portray certain people on-screen. It’s always going to be something, and it has always been something for people to complain about: She’s too light, she’s not the same culture as that person, he’s not light enough, he’s not cool enough. People are often shut down by folks before there’s a trailer, a scene–anything to judge by. But as these actors went on to prove (some didn’t though), talent can trump a lot of that criticism. Here are nine people who initially were counted out from their biopic roles but ended up either killing it, or embarrassing themselves.

J.Lo as Selena

Who could ever hate on J.Lo’s damn near flawless performance as Selena, aka Selena Quintanilla-Pérez? Well, when she was initially cast in the role, Selena fans were NOT feeling it. While Jenny From The Block is Puerto Rican, Selena was Mexican, so critics felt that a Mexican actress should have been picked for the role instead. But despite all that, in Corpus Christi, Selena’s hometown, those who attended filming were very supportive of the pick according to Lopez. And in the end, I think we can all agree that it was the role of a lifetime and Jenny slayed. Despite their cultural differences, she looked very much like the singer when all was said and done.

Angela Bassett as Tina Turner

Despite what she ended up looking like on-screen, Tina Turner and Angela Bassett really aren’t similar looking sistahs. In fact, it was Whitney Houston who was first supposed to be Tina Turner, and she had auditioned and won the role and everything. But when she got pregnant, she had to step down. Even Jenifer Lewis, who went on to play Turner’s mother in the movie, originally auditioned and was up for the role of the iconic singer, and both Vanessa Williams and even Janet Jackson were considered for the role. However, Bassett’s acting abilities out-shined everyone else’s and in the end, her portrayal of the singer helped her snag an Academy Award nomination and made her an icon in her own right.

Louis Gossett, Jr as Anwar Sadat

You might not have seen it, but Louis Gossett, Jr. portrayed the third president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, in the miniseries, Anwar. Gossett, of An Officer and a Gentleman fame and playing Fiddler in the miniseries Roots, had a critically acclaimed performance, even getting an Emmy nomination and winning a Golden Globe. However, people in Egypt were outraged by his casting, as they didn’t want an African American actor (or anyone not South African) playing the role. Gossett had to wear makeup that made him appear a lot lighter than he is in order to look similar to the president. The movie was so hated in Egypt, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture tried to put a ban on all films distributed by Columbia Pictures because they were so pissed off…

Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford

When Dunaway played Joan Crawford, for all we knew, she played that lady to a T. I had only seen one Joan Crawford movie, maybe two (shout out to What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?), but I felt like I knew her when the movie was over–and she was crazy. But playing that role turned out to be a bad idea for Dunaway. Not only was the movie critically panned, critics said she was too over the top in her portrayal of Crawford, and Dunaway personally blames the movie for damn near ending her career in the ’80s. She went from getting an Academy Award for Network in ’76 to playing less compelling roles to this day. For a period there, she even refused to talk about the film.

Denzel Washington as Malcolm X

If you ask me, Washington gave a flawless performance as Malcolm X, but early on in the production process, everybody involved in this film was embroiled in some form of controversy. Spike Lee was mad a Canadian director was initially pegged to direct the movie, so Lee was made the director after some backlash. And then there was controversy behind that. As for Denzel Washington’s part, critics were upset that Washington was much darker and shorter than Malcolm X. But despite all that, they dyed his hair, he learned the icon’s mannerisms, and he went on to give a major performance, one that garnered him an Academy Award nomination (but we all know he should have won…).

Beyoncé as Etta James

Since she’s not an “actress actress” per se, casting Beyoncé as Etta James got a side-eye from a lot of people (that and the fact that she was portraying a singer once again on-screen). Etta James was a legend, so some didn’t take the choice of the former Destiny’s Child singer very well. But despite all that, can you really say that Bey Bey was bad? She really wasn’t! She had her over-the-top moments, but in the end, she delivered pretty well if you ask me. And others seemed to agree, as she picked up a Golden Globe nomination for her work on the film.

Anthony Mackie as Tupac

When you speak of the uber-talented actor Anthony Mackie, he’s usually impressive in his acting roles…except for that one time when somebody asked him to play Tupac in the 2009 biopic, Notorious. Not only did he not really look like ‘Pac, his performance just came off awkward no matter how hard he tried. One blogger would later pan the performance by saying, “Quite frankly, I think Charlie Sheen would’ve been a better match as Tupac than Anthony Mackie.”


Naturi Naughton as Lil Kim

The only person who really gave a huge side-eye to the casting of the former 3LW singer as the Queen Bee in Notorious was…well, the Queen Bee. Sure, Naturi was a bit darker than Kim, but let’s remember that when she first stepped on the scene, Kimmy wasn’t looking anywhere near as pale as she does now. But most importantly, Kim was bothered by the fact that she was portrayed as a jump-off in the movie, trying to break up marriages and what not. And she made it clear that she wouldn’t let the false portrayal of her, or in her opinion, of Biggie, stand:

I feel like I was not portrayed how I should have been in this movie. I was in love with BIG and he was in love with me. I was never a JUMP-OFF, I know this and BIG knew this. I wasn’t even able to choose who I wanted to portray me in this movie. I would have never picked Naturi, she doesn’t have a Lil Kim aura at all! She looks nothing like I looked back then. We have NO similarities. Watching her on-screen was so “dreadful” as Simon Cowell would say. She is tasteless and talentless.

Once again…Ouch.

Don Cheadle as Sammy Davis Jr.

When most folks think Sammy Davis Jr., I don’t think that they think of Don Cheadle. There are very few similarities in appearance (maybe the nose and eyebrows?), and in the beginning, Cheadle didn’t even want to play the icon in the HBO film The Rat Pack because of the way he felt Davis was portrayed in the script–a one trick pony with no real emotion or scenes that showed the humiliation and struggle he went through for years. People changed their opinions, writers for the movie changed their script because they wanted Don so bad, and in the end, Cheadle changed the game. His portrayal of Davis garnered the actor a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination.

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  • Tenia

    Um I don’t know what movie ya’ll were watching but Beyonce was NOTHING like Etta James. She didn’t even go and consult with her about her life at all and Etta was still ALIVE! All that damn leaning she did smh. She looked like Beyonce in a wig end of story

    • carolyn bratton

      Etta James didn’t enen appreciate that dumb beyonce playing her.

  • Child_Puhleez

    Bey / Etta James … #ell No
    D Cheadle / Sammy Davis Jr … Um, No

    A Mackie / 2Pac … #ell No

    N Naughton / Lil Kim … MEH. She did nail some of Queen B’s mannerisms & speech [Sorry, Kim]

    JLopez / Selena … A begrudging YES

    A Basset / Tina Turner … YASSSSS [Bassett needed to gain weight for that role, tho. smh]

  • Jacquiline Perkins

    I HAVE SEE THEM ALL…they were good acting and there was great performances ”and just plan bad…no one stood out like Mr. Jeffery Wright Mr. Washington Mr.Cheadle Mrs. Bassett they are memorable…till today

  • Never

    That pic of Selena that girl Demi Lavotto looks a lot like her.

  • Hello86

    Look at Don Cheadle, he looks so handsome and cute.

  • Deej

    This article is essentially pointless, in the context of the Nina Simone / Zoe Saldana controversy. The author points out in the beginning, “there’s always something to complain about”–damn straight, there’s something to complain about when Hollyweird snubs Black actresses yet again, and in favor of an actress who has no sense of the African-American struggle that NIna Simone was all about ameliorating. According to Zoe herself, race is a “minute issue” compared to gender issues.

    P.S. Did anyone notice in the movie, Lincoln, that Harriet Tubman was about 30 shades lighter than the real Harriet Tubman? An accident? Another move in favor of “art” over some actual resemblance? You be the judge. But yeah, I got something to “complain about”, as the wildly misled author of this article suggests–wake up, people!

  • Diana Ross as Billie Holiday. She took a lot of cr#% but ended up with an Oscar nomination.

  • Mercedes

    Are y’all serious beyonce did a good job and Anthony Mackie didn’t?? If you ask me Beyonce has no business in the acting world let alone do a biopic. Like Kevin Hart say stay in your lane B &thats not the acting lane bc you need several seats. P.S the only reason she got nominated is bc shes Beyonce and Jay pulled some strings for her I bet.

    • carolyn bratton

      Wendy Williams said it best, she talks like she has a 5th grade education.

  • What The Hell Ever

    They should’ve put Flex Alexander playing Michael Jackson on this list. Big buff a s s Michael Jackson. lol

    • NeaJ

      Lol. OMG! That was possibly the worst “movie” ever made. Shame!!

  • Baddvixentype

    Anthony Mackie as Tupac REALLY pissed me off. I just felt like they were being sooooo disrespectful. its a shame because now everythime i see anthony mackie in anything im disgusted. Always be aware of the roles you take on, if you dont know for sure you can do justice dont even make the attempt becasue it will affect how some will take your future work smh.

  • I know I wasn’t the only person singing all of Selena’s songs in spanish and to this day, doesn’t know a lick of the language except maybe counting to TEN! LOL!! LOVED that movie! J-Lo did a great job!

    • soinlove13

      nope! me too! haha i sang all her songs in spanish and dont know spanish, but I sound like i do when Im singing it.

    • Shanice

      My nieces watched the movie with me a few weeks ago and haven’t stopped singing the chorus to Como la Flor. It’s adorable lol

  • I_am_a_Gladiator/Scandalista

    All these nominations and no wins. Typical

  • Candacey Doris

    The whole Notorious movie cast was badly done. I didn’t think it was done well at all. Don Cheadle was great as Sammy Davis JR. He really is a good actor.

    • kisstheringfool

      I’m still waiting for don cheadle’s oscar he has done some great roles.

    • bigdawgman

      Don Cheadle so good he could play Obama and you still wouldn’t notice! The dude gets no effin’ respect!!

      • Candacey Doris

        I agree! Looks nothing like the man but he would be amazing. He gets roles he has no business playing if you go by his looks but his skills are always good enough to wipe that away.

  • Lil Kim always throwing shade. I thought Natori did pretty well consider the whole cast was a joke (except faiths character who was dead on) and she need be happy she had any relevance in the wack movie. Mexican or Puerto Rican jlo was dead on to Selena. And Janet for Tina? She’s way too soft spoken. Angela did the thing!

  • NeaJ

    Lil Kim can have several seats. Her input was not wanted in that movie for a reason. When you’re sleeping with a married man, ppl are gonna see you as a jump off & nothing else. Even though Naturi didn’t look the part, I think she did an ok job.

  • “However, people in Egypt were outraged by his casting, as they didn’t want an African American actor (or anyone not South African) playing the role.” Ummm…Why would a South African be any better than a talented African-Amercian actor in portraying an Arabic-descendant North African??

    • LMJ82

      I know I peeped that. I think that’s the author’s mistake. Whoever wrote this article clearly believes Egypt is in South Africa! SMH……Oh Madame Noire….

    • Guest

      Umm…Because south africa is in Africa

  • Shay n Scrappy 4 ever! Lmao

    Y’all should include the TLC biopic… it hasnt aired yet (right?) but i mean they on here too…

    • ijs

      I think they posted this count down bc ppl are already talking smack abt it. once it airs then comments and countdowns will fly in