Zoe Saldana says she “should have never played” legendary singer Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic “Nina.”
While speaking to “Pose” creator Steven Canals on the Bese Instagram account, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” actress opened up about the controversial role.
“I should have never played Nina. I should have done everything in my power with the leverage that I had 10 years ago — which 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,” the 42-year-old — whose father is of Dominican and Haitian descent, and whose mother is Puerto Rican with some Lebanese ancestry — said.
“I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman,” she continued. “And I am. But it’s Nina. And Nina had a life and she had a journey that should have been, and should be, honored to the most specific detail. Because she was a specifically detailed individual. About her voice, her views, her music, her opinions, and her art. And she was so honest. So, she deserved better.”
Saldana concluded, “I know better today, and I’m never going to do that again. Never. I’m learning. I’m still processing it. I’ve been processing it for 10 years, and I think it’s a conversation that I wanna have.”
After it was reported in 2012 that Saldana would portray the iconic vocalist, a Change.org petition was created to “replace Zoe Saldana with an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone.”
“Nina Simone, dubbed The High Priestess of Soul, is an American icon and a music legend. Because of this, it is without a doubt straight up disrespectful to Ms. Simone and her legacy to get an actress who looks nothing like she did to portray her in a movie about her life,” the page read.
It added, “Getting light complexioned actors to play the roles of dark complexioned historical figures is not only a sign of blatant disrespect to the persons they are portraying, but it is also disrespectful to their families, to history, to the people who look like the persons being whitewashed, and to the intelligence of the audience.”
When the petition closed, it had received 11,664 supporters.
Per the New York Times, Nina’s daughter, Simone Kell (born Lisa Celeste Stroud), was also critical of Saldana’s casting.
“My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark,” Kelly was quoted saying. “Appearance-wise this is not the best choice.”
The newspaper reported that Kelly would have preferred an actress such as Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise. Kelly added that her mother’s choice to play her was Whoopi Goldberg.
Nina passed away at her home in France on April 21, 2003, after battling breast cancer.