Folks are fuming about the upcoming Nina Simone biopic — and they have every right to be.
The legendary American singer, songwriter and activist has another picture being made about her — and as the publicity for Nina picks up more critics are weighing in on how the filmmakers dropped the ball. While the storytelling is in question (attributing success to the dudes in the singer’s life, focusing on the wrong events, touching too lightly on her activism, etc.) — the most offensive thing they did was cast lighter-skinned Zoe Saldana to play the title role.
Saldana, in order to portray Nina Simone, busts out a wig because her hair is far from Simone’s actual texture, wears a prosthetic nose and — wait for it — actually wears dark brown makeup to bring the character to life. So basically, Saldana is wearing blackface — and that’s how many people are seeing this situation.
Of course, Jezebel already called out the super white team behind the production — while most recently the director from the 2015 documentary The Amazing Nina Simone spoke out against Nina in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter.
“As someone who has intensely studied Nina Simone for the past five years and recently released a documentary about her life and legacy based on interviews with over 50 of her friends, band members, family, lovers and follow activists,” Director Jeff L. Lieberman wrote, “I am saddened by the ugly and inaccurate portrayal contained in the script and trailer of Nina and by Mr. Johnson’s desperate attempt to defend the project.”
These poor decisions behind the new biopic are especially highlighted as 2016 is the year when #OscarsSoWhite and #BlackLivesMatter are being brought to light. Never forget, Nina Simone was a singer and activist who was proud of her blackness and sang songs such as “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” and “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and more.
Lieberman didn’t hold back when it came to his thoughts about the Nina project. In response to RLJ Entertainment founder’s defence to Nina, Lieberman responded:
“But suggesting that people who look like Zoe Saldana are the victim is wrong, and a quick trick at reverse racism.”
He also addressed the fact that ‘not every actor can play every role, even if you are of the same racial background.’
Moving on from the terrible casting, Lieberman also points out that the focus for storytelling in the film was off — criticizing the Nina team for picking the wrong era of her career to highlight: “The 1970s and 1980s were sadder times for Ms. Simone, and the 1990s perhaps the bleakest.”
If audiences are unfamiliar with Simone’s life, she was a talented complex woman who had many accomplishments. She was, after all, the same singer who publicly spoke out about black freedom in the 60s.
Earlier this month, Ta-Nehisi Coates so eloquently captured many of the issues with Nina‘s casting decisions in an emotional essay for The Atlantic.
“There is something deeply shameful in the fact that even today a young Nina Simone would have a hard time being cast in her own biopic,” Coates pointed out.
It’s really hard to believe this film is actually happening — in 2016. Here’s a link to the Nina trailer. Because we are Nina Simone fans here, we will leave you with one of our favourite songs of hers here: