American actress Zoe Saldana is currently being criticized after the trailer and poster for her upcoming film, Nina were released, showing a prosthetic nose and darker skin tone.
The film is a biopic of American singer Nina Simone, dubbed the “High Priestess of Soul,” who was a civil rights activist and fought for equality during the 1960s when artists of color were not given recognition in the music industry.
The casting of Saldana, 37, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, was criticized way back in 2012, when the film was announced, due to her physical appearance and political views.
— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) March 2, 2016
Critics objected to the casting of Zoe Saldana, who is petite and light-skinned, and claimed that it directly goes against the cause that Simone drove during her career.
Simone’s fans and family were not impressed with the way the studio handled the casting and make up of Saldana. Even back in 2012, Simone Kelly, the singer’s daughter, was quoted as saying that her mother was told when she was young that “her nose was too wide,” and “her skin was too dark.”
“Appearance-wise, this is not the best choice,” Kelly said in an interview with The New York Times.
— The VVitch (@_A1va) July 18, 2014
In another interview, Kelly emphasized that she loves the work of Zoe Saldana, who is among the most versatile actresses of today, although she thinks that she is not fit to play the role of her mom.
“I also know that there are many actresses out there, known or not, who would be great as my mother,” said Kelly, who pointed out that other actresses of color such as Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise may have been better choices.
The trailer for Nina has already triggered negative responses from critics, who also criticized the Avatar actress not for her acting skills, but for the “blackface” she wore during the set.
Zoe Saldana Plays Nina Simone in ‘Nina’
According to critics, the use of blackface, which is the theatrical makeup used by non-black actors to play black characters, promoted colorism in the film.
To add to the controversy, Saldana said in a BET interview in 2013 that she is uncomfortable when talking about her own race and identity.
“To me, there is no such thing as people of color, ’cause in reality people aren’t white,” she added.
“Saldana has a record of saying things like, ‘There’s no such thing as people of color.'” https://t.co/X3pGMQQQgY
— Jenée (@jdesmondharris) March 2, 2016
Director Cynthia Mort released the trailer on Wednesday, to the distaste of the late singer’s fans.
The film was first conceptualized in 2005, two years after Simone died, and Mary J. Blige was initially tapped for the role. Unfortunately, the singer eventually backed down due to production delays.
Zoe Saldana was selected in 2012, a few years after her record-breaking box-office hit, Avatar by director James Cameron.
The film was in limbo for the next couple of years, until RLJ Entertainment finally picked it up for distribution.
Zoe Saldana Reacts to Criticism Over Playing Nina Simone
While Saldana has not yet responded to the most recent backlash against her, RLJ Entertainment has already commented on the blackface issue.
“Why is there Backlash?” said RLJ’s EVP of Marketing and Corporate Affairs, Traci Blunt. “We should be celebrating the fact that Nina Simone’s story is being told and that Zoe [Saldana] has done a wonderful job portraying the incomparable Nina Simone in the film.”
Blunt added that Saldana’s skin was not darkened in post-production for the film art, but it was a “screen capture from the film.”
Meanwhile, Kelly has already asked Simone’s fans to boycott the film, which is due on April 22, and instead host listening events for the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?
Watch the Netflix bio-documentary Backed by Nina Simone’s Family
It would be interesting to hear what Zoe Saldana has to say to counter the criticisms the film is facing.
[Image by Stuart C. Wilson, Getty Images]