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Zoe Salanda’s casting as Nina Simone in an unauthorized biopic directed by Cynthia Mort drew harsh criticism from many, including Simone’s own family, who argued that Saldana bears little resemblance to the singer, who died in 2003 aged 70.
Musician India.Arie even said “they should have chosen someone who looks like Nina Simone,” and an online petition for a boycott of the film attracted more than 10,000 signatures.
During a chat with BET, Saldana described her initial reaction to the criticism as “very disappointing.”
After the photo below was released, in which Saldana’s skin was darkened and her nose enhanced with a prosthesis, people took to social media to air their grievances, pointing out that casting her was a form of black face.
In a 2013 interview, Saldana responded the criticism and defended her casting, saying:
“The Nina Simone story needed to be told, and I’m really blessed that I did it. I’m human. I wish I was made of steel and so certain things wouldn’t affect me. Just like everybody else I feel very strongly about Nina Simone, and that (this) was a story that needed to be told. I do believe that if everybody had more information about how this all came to be, it might help,” she added. “But then again, I’m not here to get the acceptance of people. I’m here to be an artist first.”
Now, the 36-year-old New Yorker of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, tells the July issue of InStyle magazine that she didn’t think she was right for the part.
“I didn’t think I was right for the part, and I know a lot of people will agree, but then again, I don’t think Elizabeth Taylor was right for Cleopatra either,” she said in the interview. “An artist is colorless, genderless… It’s more complex than just ‘Oh, you chose the Halle Berry look-alike to play a dark, strikingly beautiful, iconic black woman.’ The truth is, they chose an artist who was willing to sacrifice herself. We needed to tell her story because she deserves it.”
Moviegoers can expect to see “Nina: The Biopic of Nina Simone” in theaters before year’s end.
For more of Zoe’s interview, check out the July issue of InStyle, on newsstands June 15.