Zoe Saldana Apologized for Playing Nina Simone in That Controversial Biopic

Olivia Harvey
·3 mins read

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin, Getty Images

Zoe Saldana is reflecting on her decision to play the 20th-century Black singer and activist Nina Simone in Cynthia Mort’s 2016 biopic, Nina. In a conversation with Pose executive producer Steven Canals, which was posted to the Instagram account for Saldana’s “new media platform” BESE, Saldana admits that she “should have never played Nina.”

When Saldana, whose father is Dominican and mother is Puerto Rican, stepped into the role of Nina Simone, her lighter skin was darkened with makeup and she wore a prosthetic nose. Though she defines herself as Afro-Latinx, Saldana now realizes that she should have used her position to fight for another actress who was a better fit for the part.

“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,” Saldana told Canals.

She continued, “It’s growing. It’s painful. 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. Because she was a specifically detailed individual. About her voice, her views, her music, her opinions, and her art. And she was so honest."

"So she deserved better," Saldana said.

“With that said, so I’m sorry, I’m so sorry because I love her music...Somebody else should step up,” Saldana said. “I know better today, and I’m never going to do that again. Never. I’m learning. I’m still processing it.”

Saldana said that audiences deserve that Simone’s story be told truthfully and by an actress who has experienced similar hardships, as a dark-skinned woman in America, to what Simone experienced during her lifetime.

However, Saldana will not tolerate any hate thrown her way for taking that 2016 role. “I’m not going to allow people to violate me, to make me feel less than,” she said while tearing up. “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.”

As Canals responded, “[Saldana playing Simone] speaks to a greater systemic issue, which is we need representation—we need more representation...If that means going out there...and waiting to find just the right person to play a particular role, then that’s what it means. And it means us being allies for each other.”

Saldana's reflection now is a shift from 2017, when she defended her decision to take the role.

"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 told Allure in 2017. "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.’”

Taking responsibility and learning from mistakes is a crucial step to reshaping Hollywood and America as a whole. We appreciate Saldana reflecting on her choice these years later.