Zoe Saldana apologized for playing Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic: 'I should never have played Nina'

jsarkisian@businessinsider.com (Jacob Sarkisian)
·5 mins read
Zoe Saldana apologised for playing Nina Simone in an interview with "Pose" creator Steven Canals for Bese.
Zoe Saldana apologised for playing Nina Simone in an interview with "Pose" creator Steven Canals for Bese.

@Bese Instagram/Ian Showell/Getty Images

  • Zoe Saldana, who identifies as Afro-Latina, has apologized for playing African-American singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic "Nina."

  • In an August 3 interview with "Pose" creator Steven Canals on Bese's Instagram account, Saldana said: "I should have never played Nina," and vowed to never make the same mistake again.

  • Saldana continued: "I should have tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman."

  • For the role, Saldana wore a prosthetic nose and had her skin darkened, and many voiced their displeasure with her casting including Simone's daughter Lisa Simone Kelly: "Appearance-wise this is not the best choice."

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Zoe Saldana has formally apologized for playing African-American singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic "Nina."

Saldana, who identifies as Afro-Latina, was speaking to "Pose" creator Steven Canals in an August 3 interview posted to the Instagram account of Bese, a media platform founded by Saldana herself that focuses on topics around culture and identity.

During the 56-minute long chat, Canals asked Saldana about the controversy arose around Saldana's decision to play Simone. Canals said: "There were a lot of questions around blackface, and darkening skin, and prosthetics. And I wonder, what is your relationship with that choice now?"

Saldana was upfront with her answer, and told Canals: "I should have never played Nina. 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 tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman."

Zoe Saldana wore a prosthetic nose and had her skin darkened to play Nina Simone in the movie.
Zoe Saldana wore a prosthetic nose and had her skin darkened to play Nina Simone in the movie.

RLJ Entertainment/Ron Howard/Redferns

Saldana continued: "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, honored to the most specific detail."

Saldana praised Simone as a "specifically detailed individual" and said the activist was "honest" about everything in her life, from her voice and views to her music and art. Saldana said that Simone "deserved better," and apologized for playing the role.

Saldana continued: "I know better today, and I'm never going to do that again. Never. I'm learning. I'm still processing it. I've been processing it for 10 years, and I think it's a conversation that I wanna have. I'm not gonna allow people to violate me, to make me feel less than. But I am going to be open to this conversation, so we can grow from it, and we can give back to ourselves and to each other our identity. For f---'s sake, it's about time."

Watch the interview below:

For the role, Saldana wore a prosthetic nose and had her skin darkened, which angered many at the time including Simone's own daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly. Kelly told The New York Times in 2012 when news of Saldana's casting was first breaking: "My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise this is not the best choice."

Also, India Arie, who had previously played Simone in a 2003 episode of NBC's "American Dreams," told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016 that "the best way to say it is that they casted her against type and went too far to make her fit."

Arie said: "It made me sad. 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."

Saldana had previously defended playing Simone in a 2017 interview with Allure, in which she told the publication: "There's no one way to be Black."

At the time, Saldana said: "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 […] 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.'"

Read more:

The actor who plays Dr Hibbert in 'The Simpsons' questions the show's decision to stop casting white actors as characters of color

Robert Downey Jr. defended his Oscar-nominated blackface role in 'Tropic Thunder': 'I knew where my heart was'

32 times 'Avengers' stars have costarred outside of the Marvel Universe

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