Zoe Saldana apologises for playing jazz icon Nina Simone in controversial biopic
7 August 2020, 16:13 | Updated: 21 January 2022, 16:44
The 2016 film ‘Nina’ was derided by critics, and even the jazz great’s estate refused to endorse it.
Zoe Saldana has apologised for playing Nina Simone in a 2016 biopic, which was condemned by both critics and Simone’s estate.
“She deserved better,” Saldana said of the late pianist and singer, in an Instagram Live interview with Pose creator Steven Canals.
The actress, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, wore a prosthetic nose and skin-darkening makeup to play the American jazz icon.
“I should have never played Nina,” she added, getting emotional. “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.”
In 2012, when the casting was announced, the pianist’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly praised Saldana as an actress, but said “Appearance-wise, this is not the best choice”. She called for actresses with “beautiful, luscious lips and wide noses” to play her mother.
In 2016, when the film was released, Simone’s estate tweeted Saldana: “Please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”
During the Instagram Live, Saldana said: “I thought back then that I had the permission 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, honoured to the most specific detail because she was a specifically detailed individual.
“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. I should have done everything in my power to cast a black woman to play an exceptionally perfect black woman.”
When she was accused of blackface in 2016, the actress had defended the casting. “If Elizabeth Taylor can be Cleopatra, I can be Nina,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how much backlash I will get for it. I will honour and respect my black community because that’s who I am.”
Aside from the response from Simone’s estate, Nina (2016) was poorly received by critics, and rated just 2 percent on film criticism website Rotten Tomatoes.
Nina Simone was a pianist, singer and civil rights advocate, remembered as one of America’s most iconic jazz stars. In her music she fused gospel and classical styles, and she fought against racial discrimination and segregation throughout her career.
She died in 2003 at the age of 70.