Zoe Saldana And The Nina Simone Controversy, Explained

 
on November 20 2012 10:16 AM
Saldana
Co-star David Oyelowo says that he was "blown away" by actress Zoe Saldana's singing in her portayal of Nina Simone for the film "Nina." Reuters

Zoe Saldana is one of the fastest-rising stars in Hollywood, but her elite status hasn't shielded her from the darts of the entertainment industry.

After Saldana was chosen by "Nina" director Cynthia Mort to play deceased soul goddess Nina Simone, the public and the media buffeted Saldana and the "Nina" team with frenzied criticism, claiming the casting was a cruel disservice to Simone's legacy.

Originally, Mary J. Blige was slated to portray Simone, but the R&B legend dropped out of the project due to production delays.

When Saldana signed onto the project, it wasn't her acting chops that were disputed, but rather, her likeness to Simone. Critics suggested actresses like Viola Davis ("The Help") and Kimberly Elise (Tyler Perry series) were better suited to star as Simone due to their darker hues.

Saldana, born to a Dominican father and Puerto Rican mother, has a markedly lighter skin tone than Simone, though Mort and the "Nina" crew have done everything in their power to darken the "Avatar" actresses's skin color.

But altering Saldana's complexion has critics arguing the practice betrays Simone's legacy. The singer--who released more than 40 albums before she passed away in 2003 from breast cancer--fought adamantly for equal rights in the U.S. . In interviews she argued that darker-skinned actresses in Hollywood were punished for their skin color, an issue rekindled by the Saldana casting decision.

Simone's daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, has publicly questioned "Nina," telling the media that her mother told Whoopi Goldberg that she'd like the famed comedian to portray Simone on film. Goldberg confirmed the claim to Joy Behar, who remarked that Saldana's casting "won't work."

Online, according to E!, singer India Arie slammed the decision, but she was quick to point out that her opinions stemmed not from a dislike of Saldana, but rather from physical dissimilarities between the two and a betrayal of Simone's messages by the studio.

"So today I saw the images of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone…AND I THINK THEY ARE RIDICULOUS," Arie emphatically stated.

She later added that while she had faith in Saldana, she would like to see Viola Davis take on the role.

At Change.org, fans have petitioned Cynthia Mort to reconsider her casting decision. Members write that they do not have a problem with Saldana as an actress. Instead, they'd like to see Simone portrayed by a star who more closely resembles her.

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