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Zoe Saldana faced a slew of criticism when she decided to portray Nina Simone in Cynthia Mort's 2016 biopic Nina. Before Saldana's performance even hit the table for judgment, people let it be known that Simone's place and life as a dark-skinned Black woman were being rewritten when Saldana took on the role.
This moved Saldana to apologize for playing Simone and not using her position to advocate for other Black actors. During a recent livestream, the Guardians of the Galaxy star made it clear that taking on the role of Simone was a bad decision and something she never should have done.
"I should have never played Nina," Saldana said. "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."
In Nina, Saldana not only used makeup to darken her skin, she also allowed production to fit her with a prosthetic nose so her features would resemble the iconic songwriter and performer. Many people saw this as transformation and her portrayal as neo-colorism.
Saldana's father is Dominican and her mother is Puerto Rican. Although she identifies as Afro-Latinx, there are certain privileges she is granted—which all people with lighter skin have—that aren't afforded to people with darker skin. Instead of using this position to lobby for an actor that looks more like Simone, Saldana decided to use her privilege to try to straddle the fence. She now recognizes this was a mistake after falling off the makeshift balance-beam she created.
"I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman," Saldana said. "And I am. But, it's Nina. And Nina had a life and a journey that should be honored to the specific detail."
Nina co-starred David Oyelowo and featured Kevin Mambo, Mike Epps, and Keith David. It was the feature writing/directing debut for Cynthia Mort, a white TV writer/producer from shows like Roseanne and Will & Grace.
Saldana went on to say that someone else should "step up" and tell Nina Simone's story in a way that evades any controversy and truly puts her life and journey in perspective.
"We've been appropriating ourselves with someone like Nina Simone for a very long time," she continued, wiping away tears. "And I just want her story to be told and I want it to be right because she deserves it."
And it's worth noting that Netflix's Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated 2015 documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? kind of negated the need for Mort's biopic in the first place: