Zoe Saldana responded to critics of her casting as Nina Simone in the recent biographical film, “Nina.”
After a 2012 announcement that the “Star Trek” actress would play the iconic singer and activist, Simone’s estate and others criticised the production for casting an actress who didn’t look like the African American star.
“There’s no one way to be black,” Saldana, 38, said in a new interview with Allure magazine of the criticism. “I’m black the way I know how to be. 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.”
In 2012, Simone’s daughter, Simone Kelly, said of Saldana’s casting, “Appearance-wise this is not the best choice.”
Later that year, Kelly elaborated in a New York Times interview on how central Simone’s appearance was to her story.
“My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark,” she said.
People expressed further outrage when a trailer for “Nina” was released in March, showing Saldana wearing a prosthetic nose and makeup to make her skin darker.
Grammy-winning singer India Arie,
who portrayed Simone on a
2003 episode of the 1960s-set NBC drama “American Dreams
,” saw an early version of the movie during a 2013 private screening. She, too, criticised the Saldana’s appearance as the singer.
“It made me sad,” Arie said. “The way she looked in the movie was ugly. Whether or not Nina Simone was beautiful in your eyes, I thought she was beautiful. But in this movie, she just looked weird. Her skin looked weird, and her nose looked weird. It made me wonder, was that how the filmmakers see her? Did they not think she was beautiful? Were they like, ‘Yeah, we got it! That’s how she looked.'”
Regarding the prosthetics and makeup, Saldana told Allure, “I never saw her as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family!”
“But if you think the [prosthetic] nose I wore was unattractive, then maybe you need to ask yourself, What do you consider beautiful? Do you consider a thinner nose beautiful, so the wider you get, the more insulted you become?” Saldana continued in the interview.
Saldana said the movie script was passed on numerous times and that the singer’s story may not have been told if she didn’t sign on. For that reason, Saldana said she has no regrets over doing the role.
“The fact that we’re talking about her, that Nina Simone is trending? We f—ing won,” the actress said. “For so many years, nobody knew who the f— she was. She is essential to our American history. As a woman first, and only then as everything else.”
“Nina” was released in April to a limited number of theatres and through video on demand.
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