Entertainment Weekly

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Article

Zoe Saldana, Nina Simone controversy: Actress says there's no one way to be black in interview

Posted on

RLJ Entertainment

Since Zoe Saldana was cast as jazz legend Nina Simone in the biopic Nina, the actress has faced backlash from fans, critics, and Simone’s estate. In a new interview with Allure magazine, she discussed the controversy in-depth, saying, “There’s no one way to be black.” 

“I’m black the way I know how to be,” she continued. “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.”

Addressing criticism that she’s too “pretty” to play Simone, Saldana remarked, “I never saw her as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family! But if you think the [prosthetic] nose I wore was unattractive, then maybe you need to ask yourself, What do you consider beautiful? Do you consider a thinner nose beautiful, so the wider you get, the more insulted you become?”

Despite the backlash, Saldana explained she’s happy people are at least talking about Nina. “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 said. “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.”

She added, “The fact that we’re talking about her, that Nina Simone is trending? We f—ing won. For so many years, nobody knew who the f— she was. She is essential to our American history. As a woman first, and only then as everything else.”

The backlash gained a second wind when the trailer for Nina debuted. Simone’s estate tweeted to Saldana at the time, “Take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.” Nina director Cynthia Mort was quick on the defense, saying, “Zoe gave an amazingly courageous and great performance. I think that’s all that should matter.” 

Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, also came to Saldana’s defense. “It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” she told Time magazine in an interview. “It’s clear she brought her best to this project, but unfortunately she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.” 

Nina distributor Robert L. Johnson also earlier addressed the controversy, likening the debate to the treatment of slaves. “It’s unfortunate that African Americans are talking about this in a way that hearkens back to how we were treated when we were slaves. The slave masters separated light-skinned blacks from dark-skinned blacks, and some of that social DNA still exists today among many black people.”

The film was released earlier this year, on April 22. 

Comments