Back in 2012, India Arie penned an open letter about the upcoming Nina Simone biopic, Nina where she criticized the filmmaker’s decision to cast Zoe Saldana after photos of the actress dressed as Simone leaked online, saying,
“As hard as Nina had to fight for what she wanted BECAUSE she was Black and looked the way she did … THIS looks like a parody. If it has to be FORCED this hard something’s not right!”
The singer-songwriter recently saw an early cut of the film and sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss why she felt like the casting is such a huge error. Arie touches on a number of issues, like the fact that the team behind the film is predominantly White.
“There are certain understandings that are just in your bones, based on who you are, and those would have been brought to bear,” she said. “I don’t know if it would have been a perfect movie, but certain fundamental truths would have been taken into account. But there’s also a part of me that’s naïve and thinks, even if it were 98 percent White people involved in the making of this movie, it still could have been done right if they cared enough to do it right. But obviously, that didn’t happen.”
She also discussed why casting Zoe Saldana as the iconic singer is such a big issue, mentioning how Nina Simone’s bold career was framed and inspired by the color of her skin and how she was treated because of it, the sacrifices she made, and the racism that permeates America and Hollywood,
“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. To propagate that institutionalized racism that is historical in Hollywood in a movie about her is ironic in the worst possible way.”
Still, she doesn’t completely blame Saldana for taking the role, adding,
“I don’t know her and I don’t think she did anything wrong. If I were in her shoes and I admired Nina Simone the way that I hear she does, I would have said yes, too, and I don’t even think I can act. If they asked me to sing Nina Simone, I got that. But I never pursued it because I felt it was not my place. And I don’t know if it was her place to do that. I think they cast Zoe Saldana because they wanted a big name, but that makes me ask, “Is the name Nina Simone not big enough to get people to come to the movie?”
Arie hasn’t seen a final cut of the film, but did say that the version she saw gave her the same feeling she had when watching the documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, although the biopic focuses on Simone’s life with her personal assistant Clifton Henderson.
The release date for the film is fastly approaching and we’re definitely intrigued to see how it portrays the legacy of such an iconic figure.