In recent weeks, Black Lives Matter protests and renewed discussions about systemic racism have prompted a number of filmmakers and TV producers to apologize for using blackface or making insensitive casting choices.
Actress Zoe Saldana apologized for playing Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic. Four years after she was heavily criticized for darkening her skin and wearing a prosthetic nose for the role.
Saldana portrayed the late ‘Feeling Good’ singer and civil rights activist in the 2016 film Nina. The biopic was derided by critics and holds a 2% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It also attracted a lot of backlash. Nina Simone was a revered singer and civil rights activist. She was known for performing songs such as Feelin’ Good, I put A Spell On You and I Loves You, Porgy. She died in 2003 at the age of 70.
“I should have never played Nina”
The 42 year old actress who is Afro-Latinx of Dominican, Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, spoke to Pose creator, Steven Canals about portraying the singer in an interview on Bese this Tuesday.
“I should have never played Nina,” Saldana said. “I should have done everything in my power with the leverage that I had 10 years ago, which was a different leverage, but it was leverage nonetheless.” She continued, “I should have done everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman.”
The Avengers actress remorsefully continued, “I thought back then that I had the permission [to play her] because I was a Black woman. And I am. But it was Nina Simone. And Nina had a life and she had a journey that should have been, and should be, honored to the most specific detail. Because she was a specifically detailed individual.
“I know better today, and I’m never going to do that again”
Saldana, who has also starred in Guardians of the Galaxy and two of Marvel’s Avengers films, said Simone “deserved better.” A teary eyed Saldana apologised, “With that said, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I know better today, and I’m never going to do that again. She’s one of our giants and someone else should step up. Somebody else should tell her story.”
Backlash and Criticism
Much of Simone’s work centered on her marginalization as a dark-skinned black woman in America. Fans condemned the casting since it was first announced in 2012.
Dozens of people blasted director Cynthia Mort and Saldana for the casting, saying it was disrespectful to darken the actress’ face to play Simone. Who spent years of her life campaigning for civil rights. Simone’s estate refused to endorse the film, and the late singer’s daughter questioned the casting decision.
In 2012, when the casting was announced, the singer’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly praised Saldana’s acting but said, “Appearance-wise, this is not the best choice.” She called for actors with “beautiful, luscious lips and wide noses” to play her mother.
“If Elizabeth Taylor can be Cleopatra, I can be Nina”
Saldana had previously defended her portrayal of the legendary soul singer in 2013 Interview. “Let me tell you, if Elizabeth Taylor can be Cleopatra, I can be Nina — I’m sorry. It doesn’t matter how much backlash I will get for it. I will honor and respect my Black community because that’s who I am,” she added.
In another interview with Allure in 2016, she said, “There’s no one way to be black. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I’m raising black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.”
However, this did not sit down well with Nina Simone’s estate, who tweeted, “Please take Nina’s name out of your mouth. For the rest of your life. Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, nauseating, soul-crushing.”