Earlier this week, we not only learned the April 22 release date for the Nina Simone biopic “Nina,” but we saw the poster and trailer, too. Images of star Zoe Saldana wearing an Afro wig, prosthetic nose and makeup to darken her skin reignited a debate that first raged in 2012 when it was announced that she would take over the titular role after Mary J. Blige left the project.
Those images also reminded the masses that the film was made without the permission or contribution of Simone’s estate, and that her family has argued that the singer and activist—whose work often centered around the otherness she felt in a nation that valued a beauty aesthetic that did not include her African features and dark skin—should be portrayed by an actress whose life and looks also embody that reality.
So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the estate’s Twitter account took over timelines yesterday (March 2) with a tweet directed at Saldana:
.@zoesaldana Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.— Nina Simone (@NinaSimoneMusic) March 3, 2016
And this morning, the estate tweeted:
Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing. It shall pass, but for now…— Nina Simone (@NinaSimoneMusic) March 3, 2016
The rest of the Internet also had a lot to say. Interestingly, much of the backlash is directed at Saldana, who is Dominican and Puerto Rican and identifies as Latina and Black. But it’s worth noting that the production crew, as Jezebel nicely breaks down, is nearly all White, from decision makers like director Cynthia Mort and casting director Heidi Levitt, to key makeup artist Vera Steimberg.
That said, these tweets sum up the Internet’s general reaction to this film:
Dear father,— Awesomely Luvvie (@Luvvie) March 3, 2016
Please let Zoe’s edges grow back after @NinaSimoneMusic just snatched them. In Jesus’ MIGHTY name.
Want to know whose to blame for this #NinaSimone blackface biopic? Let’s all look in our mirrors. As long as we eat trash, we’ll be fed it.— Greg Carr (@AfricanaCarr) March 3, 2016
Aside from the blatant colorism…I don’t see anything Nina-like in that trailer.— Black Girl Nerds (@BlackGirlNerds) March 2, 2016
Shout out to everyone was upset over Affleck being Bruce Wayne but can’t relate to folks being mad about Zoe as Nina Simone.— #BernedOut (@rodimusprime) March 3, 2016
..But this is what you get when you get a clueless ass White writer/director and producers to make a movie about Nina Simone. CHRIST.— Film Fatale NYC (@FilmFatale_NYC) March 2, 2016
In June 2015, Saldana told InStyle magazine that she didn’t think she was the right choice for the role:
“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,” Saldana said. “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.”
Though she has not tweeted recently about the debate, in 2013, Saldana spoke candidly with HipHollywood about how she handles criticism regarding this role:
I’m doing it for my sisters, I’m doing it for my brothers. And I don’t care who tells me that I am not this, and I am not that. I know who I am, and I know what Nina Simone means to me. So that is my truth and that set me free…. If [the movie] comes back in any other way, if it comes back in a negative fashion or positive, I’m gonna keep my chin up, because that’s who I am and who I’ll be. And Nina was like that, too. So, I did it all out of love. Out of love for Nina, out of love for my people and who I am, and my pride of being a Black woman and a Latina woman and American woman. And that’s my truth.
Watch the full video below.