"[Nina] deserved better," Saldana said.
Nina Simone's family was less than pleased after Zoe Saldana was cast as the late singer for the 2016 biographical drama, Nina.
"Please take Nina's name out your mouth," Simone's estate wrote to Saldana on Twitter. "For the rest of your life." Now, Saldana has expressed regret in taking the role.
"I should have never played Nina," Saldana said in an interview with Stephen Canals for BeseBese. "The leverage that I had 10 years ago [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."
Fighting back tears, she 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 a journey that should be honored to the most specific detail, because she was a specifically detailed individual about her voice and her opinions and her views and her music and her art. And she was so honest. So she deserved better."
The long-delayed Nina biopic was pretty ill-fated from the start. The role of Nina Simone—the legendary singer, songwriter, musician, and civil rights activist—had originally been given to Mary J. Blige, who said she had spent years in preparation for the film. But due to "scheduling issues," Blige backed out of the movie, and Saldana was the chosen replacement.
Nina Official Trailer #1 (2016) - Zoe Saldana, David Oyelowo Movie HD www.youtube.com
The casting of Saldana spurred accusations of colorism, a term believed to have been coined by The Color Purple novelist Alice Walker. Colorism can be defined as discrimination based on gradation of skin tones, but it differs from racism in that it exists among non-white communities. It's the belief that "light skin" in Black and Brown people is inherently better than "dark skin." The uproar over the casting of Nina stemmed from the fact that Saldana's skin tone falls into the former category, while Simone would have been classified as the latter.
Saldana is Afro-Latina and wore a nose prosthetic, false teeth, and dark makeup to make her more closely resemble Simone—something Simone's family took issue with.
"My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark," Simone's daughter Lisa Simone Kelly told The New York Times. "Appearance-wise [Saldana] is not the best choice." Kelly added that she would've liked to see either Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise portray her mother, while Simone's own choice was Whoopi Goldberg.
Saldana had turned down the role of Simone for a year before ultimately changing her mind. When asked about her critics in a 2016 interview with Allure, she responded: "There's no one way to be Black. 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."
But the entertainment industry has a long-running problem with colorism. A preference for light-skinned lead roles runs rampant in Bollywood. Some Asian-American audiences were disappointed by the lack of Brown people in Crazy Rich Asians, despite the film being the first blockbuster in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast. Even Mathew Knowles, the father of Beyonce and Solange Knowles, recognizes that many of today's best-selling Black artists—his daughters included—benefit from light-skin privilege. Speaking about the choice to cast Saldana in Nina, singer-songwriter Indie.Arie told The Hollywood Reporter that "the best way to say it is that they casted her against type and went too far to make her fit."
Much of the music in Simone's repertoire, like "Brown Baby," "Zungo," and of course, "Mississippi Goddam," drew from her Black heritage. Being a dark-skinned Black woman was crucial to Simone's identity both as a person and as an artist. "My skin is black / My arms are long / My hair is woolly / My back is strong / Strong enough to take the pain / Inflicted again and again," she sang in her 1966 song "Four Women," a song about the Eurocentric appearance standards imposed on American Black women.
While it was noble of Saldana to apologize for taking the role, her statement comes too late. While it's true that there's no one correct way to be Black, Saldana's experience is different from Simone's—one that was consistently tied in with her music. At least we have the Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? to give us a more well-rounded look behind her legacy.
There's an entire genre of YouTube videos that consists of nothing but news bloopers, and they're equal parts hilarious and panic-inducing.
"Right after the break, we're going to interview Erik Weihenmayer, who climbed the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest, but he's gay—I mean, he's gay, excuse me, he's blind."
Back in the early 2000's a young news anchor in New Mexico had a slip of the tongue on live TV that has enterred the annals of news blooper history.
Gay Mount Everest www.youtube.com
Cynthia Izaguirre had just gotten done reporting on a separate story discussing activism for gay rights, and was setting up a segment with the first blind man to climb Mount Everest, and her thoughts got twisted on the way to her mouth, resulting in a 14-second clip that would live on in infamy.
Here's what to listen to this weekend.
If you're anything like us, you're probably overwhelmed by the sheer number of albums being released on a weekly basis.
We're here to make your music discovery a little bit easier. Popdust's weekly Indie Roundup finds the five best albums coming out each week so that you don't have to. Every Friday, we'll tell you what's worth listening to that might not already be on your radar.