Zoe Saldana regrets playing Nina Simone in controversial biopic: 'She deserved better'
Saldana openly discussed her missteps with Pose creator Steven Canals during a chat about their experiences as Afro-Latinos in Hollywood and the timely conversation surrounding colorism within the Latino community on Tuesday. She explained that since taking on the role of Simone, which required her to wear a prosthetic nose and to darken her skin, she's put in a lot of work to avoid making such a mistake again in the future.
“I should have never played Nina," Saldana, who previously debated she did have a right to play Simone, said emphatically. "I should have done everything in my power, with the leverage that I had 10 years ago — which was a different [amount of] leverage, but it was leverage nonetheless. I should've tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman.”
She adds, "That's [growth] and 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've been and should be honored to the most specific detail because she was a specifically detailed individual about her voice, her opinions, her views, her music, and her art. And she was so honest. She deserved better."
Saldana completed her thoughts on her casting all those years ago with a proper apology.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry because I love her music," she said while getting emotional. "It wasn't enough. With that said, she's one of our giants and someone else should step-up. Somebody else should tell her story."
Simone's daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, was highly critical of the film though she went on record in a rare interview to say the criticism against Saldana is misdirected. The larger issue with the biopic, according to Kelly and her husband Rob Kelly, was the inaccurate storylines written in for dramatic effect.
“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” Kelly told Time magazine in 2016. “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.”
Her husband added, "Everything from the first scene when she’s strapped to a gurney is a lie. We’re both very passionate about her legacy being told the right way. What she actually accomplished is not common, and most people don’t know that.”
Although Kelly felt that the backlash against Saldana was without merit at the time, she was vocal about Saldana not being the “proper choice, appearance-wise.”
Nina faced a number of drawbacks while in development. Mary J. Blige was initially attached to star as Simone in 2o10 but quickly dropped out before Saldana took over the part. After the film wrapped in 2014, Mort filed a lawsuit against the film’s production company, claiming producers cut her out of making crucial creative decisions for the biopic. The dispute halted the release of the production.