In her interview with Allure, Zoe Saldana holds nothing back as she defends her role in the Nina Simone biopic. I’m not sure why she is bringing this back up because it’s like beating a dead horse.
From her initial casting in 2012 to the first trailer on YouTube to the quiet, no-fanfare release of the film in April, Saldana has been pilloried online for having the audacity to play the dark-skinned, highly political singer. And after Saldana tweeted a quote from Simone, the singer’s estate tweeted, “Cool story but please take Nina’s name out of your mouth. For the rest of your life.” Saldana faces these criticisms, like everything else in her life, head-on.
“There’s no one way to be black,” she says quietly and slowly, clearly choosing her words carefully.”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.”
Zoe is quick to choose when she “embraces” her blackness and her depiction of Nina Simone in her biopic has been heavily flagged as “blackface”.
The very idea that Saldana could be considered “too pretty” to play Simone seems to make the actress more sad than defensive. “I never saw her as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family!” she says. “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?”
To me, Zoe still fails to just take the “L” for this movie. No one said she was too pretty to play the role…was Simone not pretty herself? Zoe clearly tries to downplay the REAL issue. Her depicting Nina Simone was wrong and goes against the powerful message Simone upheld in regards to her looks. Zoe is everything Simone was not and it’s a shame that the directors of this movie felt that putting Zoe in prosthetic pieces and darkening her skin would suffice.
What seemed to drive criticism about Saldana daring to take the role—one she turned down for a year, by the way—was not just the idea that she wore skin-darkening makeup to play Simone but the even deeper affront that the job went to someone seen as apolitical.
Still, she has no regrets. “The script probably would still be lying around, going from office to office, agency to agency, and nobody would have done it. Female stories aren’t relevant enough, especially a black female story,” she says. “I made a choice. Do I continue passing on the script and hope that the ‘right’ black person will do it, or do I say, ‘You know what? Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing in comparison to the fact that this story must be told.‘”
“The fact that we’re talking about her, that Nina Simone is trending? We fucking won,” Saldana continues. “For so many years, nobody knew who the fuck she was. She is essential to our American history. As a woman first, and only then as everything else.”
Zoe sounds so pissed about the criticisms for this movie. Her statements saying no one knew who Nina Simone was before she decided to play her were ridiculous to make. Nina Simone was known for her impactful movement of embracing her appearance and of course, her legendary music. As much as Saldana tries to make “logical” sense of the situation, it makes her look silly. The movie has came out and has not been talked about in a positive light.
If the systemic problem of underrepresentation is ever truly addressed, more minority writers, directors, and producers would no doubt create amazing roles for the Viola Davises and Audra McDonalds and the entire list of actresses who “should” have gotten the role in Nina. “Let it be the first movie,” Saldana says. “If you think you can do it better, then by all means. Let ours be version number one of ten stories in the next ten years about the fucking iconic person that was Nina Simone.“