The internet (i.e. Black Twitter) made a collective eye roll back in 2016 when the first trailer for the Nina Simone biopic Nina was released. The main reason for the immediate backlash was the casting of Zoe Saldana, who identifies as Afro-Latina but was outfitted in dark makeup as well as a prosthetic nose and false teeth.
Years later, Saldana agrees with all of us that Simone “deserved better” than her controversial portrayal of the famed jazz singer.
During a virtual interview with Pose creator Steven Canals for the platform Bese, Saldana broke down into tears while opening up about her controversial casting.
“I should have never played Nina,” Saldana said Monday. “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.”
Initially, Saldana, who was raised with a Dominican father and Puerto Rican mother, defended the movie’s casting.
“An artist is colorless, genderless,” Saldana told BET back in 2016. “It’s more complex that just ‘Oh, you chose the Halle Berry look-a-like 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.”
Simone’s daughter Simone Kelly expressed her dissatisfaction with the casting choice when it was made public in 2012, saying, “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise this is not the best choice.”
R&B singer India Arie also spoke up about the casting, telling The Hollywood Reporter: “In the context of the politics of race in America, and the politics of race in the entertainment industry in America, to make a movie about a person like that and cast an actress that has to wear blackface and a prosthetic nose is tone-deaf.”