Should Viola Davis Be Playing Nina Simone?

Both Viola Davis’ success and eloquence have made her one of the go-to spokespeople for black women in Hollywood.

With two Oscar nominations and an Emmy win under her belt, it seems logical that Viola would be one of the key actresses considered to play Nina Simone in the controversy-ridden upcoming biopic. As Davis picked up awards for How To Get Away With Murder last year, one of her most memorable quips on the subject came from an acceptance speech at the Screen Actors Guild ceremony.

“When I tell my daughter stories at night, inevitably, a few things happen. Number one, I use my imagination. I always start with life, and then I build from there. And then the other thing that happens is she always says, ‘Mommy, can you put me in the story?’ And you know, it starts from the top up.”

It was a statement that was relevant not only to Viola as a black actress in Hollywood, but also central to the show she was winning for. HTGAWM show runner Shonda Rhimes has been outspoken advocate of the need for diversity in film and television. When a Deadline article said that the 2015 pilot season had shown minority actors outnumbering whites, public backlash followed — and so did Shonda herself.

That puts Davis in a unique position as a voice on the subject of casting Nina Simone. Although the uproar over the casting of Zoe Saldana really blew up just a few weeks ago when the trailer was released, Viola first commented candidly on the issue when it was announced in 2012. In an interview with BET, she actually came out in support of Zoe.

“I’m very aware of people talking about that, of course. But I’m also aware that Zoe Saldana is attached to the project and I really have a lot of respect for her as an actress… And I feel like I don’t want to interject myself into what she’s doing. I think that she chose the project, she’s attached to it and I think she’ll do a fabulous job.”

Viola Davis plays Nina Simone
Viola Davis should have been the first choice to play Nina Simone. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Variety)

As of now, Davis has stayed relatively quiet on the issue, but many people are presenting her on the short list of better candidates than Saldana to play Simone. Nearly every series of suggestions features her alongside 12 Years A Slave Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o and Orange is the New Black breakout Uzo Aduba. Neither of these two latter actresses, however, had quite reached the popularity of Viola at the time the cast list was revealed.

As Davis’ talent is undeniable, it’s obvious that she’s qualified for the role; but she also falls in line with what Nina’s family has complained about in the aftermath. Viola fulfills Simone’s mission to be unapologetically black — a message that courses through her music and the legacy of her career. Something her daughter, Simone Kelly, noted to the Los Angeles Times in 2015.

“We all have a story. My mother suffered. We can go all the way back to when she was a child and people told her her nose was too big, her skin was too dark, her lips were too wide. It’s very important the world acknowledges my mother was a classical musician whose dreams were not realized because of racism.”

Viola Davis would be great as Nina Simone
Viola Davis seems a much more apt choice for Nina Simone than the fair-skinned Zoe Saldana. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Do you think Viola Davis was the right choice for the Nina Simone biopic?

[Image via Mark Davis/Getty Images]