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Zoe Saldana in Prosthetics to play Nina Simone:Some Fans Outraged!

I think this controversy kicked up while I was on blogcation, but we spoke about at length on the WAOD Facebook Fanpage. As you may not know, actress Zoe Saldana was selected to play Nina Simone in an unauthorized biopic.

We know it was unauthorized because Nina's daughter spoke out explaining that the family had been frozen out of the project and the project centered about Nina's alleged romance with her male nurse:

“My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark,” Ms. Kelly said in an interview. “Appearance-wise this is not the best choice,” she added, referring to Ms. Saldana.

Ms. Kelly, who described herself as a fan of Ms. Saldana’s work, said she would have preferred to see actresses like Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise. She added that her mother’s own choice to play her was Whoopi Goldberg.

Ms. Kelly also took issue with the creative license taken by Ms. Mort’s script, particularly the story line that Simone had a romantic relationship with Mr. Henderson. In the Facebook post Ms. Kelly wrote: “Clifton Henderson was gay. He was not attracted to women. So, the truth is ... Nina Simone and Clifton Henderson NEVER had a relationship other than a business one.” NY Times

Well a WAOD reader forwarded me these photos of Zoe in "prosthetics" to play Nina Simone.

It's obvious she's got on a wig- no problem- happens all the time. But she also appears to be in "Blackface." I noted that she's wearing dentures and Sade, the reader who sent the photos claims that Zoe is also wearing a prosthetic posterior. Well I  put the photo up  on Sunday morning and the response was overwhelmingly negative.

Rather than honor the woman you're about to try and make money off of by finding an actress who resembles her, you dress an otherwise unqualified actress up to look like she's participating in an SNL skit. Lord, help me - Kimberly

that is ridiculous smdh, so dissapointed. India Aire would have been so much better. - Renee

A black woman in black face... Hmmm... that makes EVERYTHING better. -Shane

What a low blow - Yoblack Chile

WTH? She looks like clay - Keykey

Who did her makeup / the same mofos Tyler uses on Mr Brown etc ? I've seen better make up in a high school theatre class. - Djuan

It's annoying, but she's just following a tried and true method of trying to win the Oscar, which is "uglying" up a "pretty" girl. That being said, I just dont see how she was the best choice to play Nina Simone. -Karen

 Disgusted! People, we've got to make our own movies and stop consuming big Hollywood garbage. Why do we accept that we need big Hollywood to tell our stories in the first place?? We still end up consumers, not producers of our own history, and powerless, as we see in this case, to control or shape our own imagery. I will not patronize this film despite my love for Zoe. A shame. - Lisa


 Not all readers agree:

Why are people so upset about Zoe playing Nina? She's an actress right? Isn't the point to transform into a different person? Zoe is a black woman as well. Shes Afro-Latina. I'm a little uncomfortable with people bashing the movie before its even done filming. I really don't get all the hate towards this woman. Is it because she isn't the best actress for the job or her perceived "otherness?" - Kia

So what say you? Did Zoe deserve an opportunity to try to pull off Nina Simone or should the director have selected an actress who more closely resembled Nina Simone in real life? Keep in mind that Nina was VERY OUTSPOKEN about how people treated her because of how she looked.

My skin is black.

My arms are long.

My hair is wooley.

My back is strong. 

Four Women- Nina Simone

I reminding you that Nicole Kidman won an OSCAR wearing a fake nose and Angela Bassett has played everyone from Corretta Scott King to Betty Shabazz to Tina Turner.


P.S. Nina Simone was worthier of a MUCH. BETTER.WIG

Reader Comments (28)

My problem with this is Zoe's skin color since skin color was a very big part of Nina's life. How are we to understand what Nina dealt with if the actress playing her is much lighter than she was? I would have liked to see Anika Noni Rose play Nina. She would have been perfect.

October 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I believe from listening to Nina Simone's music and interviews that she would have wanted someone who really looked like her to play her.I believe that she loved herself and the way she looked.I also believe that she would want someone who is talented in music and acting to play her.Zoe is not the one.

I remember Halle playing Dorothy Dandridge.I remember thinking Halle can't sing in real life and is darker than her.I ended up liking the movie.But I still think someone else should have played Dorothy.I think Angela Basset is a good actress and did good at playing Tina but I remember thinking they didn't look much alike to me.I didn't like her as Betty or Coretta though.I thought they were just picking any popular connected black actress when she was chosen.That's the same way I feel about Zoe.

I don't believe the makers of this film intend to offend anyone.Zoe is just one of the black it girls of the moment.
She knows and has people.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertruth p

Were people upset when Denzel Washington, who is dark skinned, played Malcolm X, who is light skinned (red bone) and had a mixed Grandmother?

Is it that Zoe is light skinned? Or is it that some are assuming that she cannot play Nina accurately?

I'll wait to see the film before passing judgment.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLorna Jerome

I don't think Zoe is light skinned at all, she's darker than I am and I am light skinned. However she does NOT look like Nina at ALL. I met her in the 70's and IMO, Anika Noni Rose would have been the better choice.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEva

A few thoughts.

Nina Simone had a distinct voice, so it would be very difficult to find someone who could sing like her. So I don't think musical ability is a necessary requirement for the role- the actress would have to be able to lip-sync convincingly. Thus I agree with Ms. Kelly that Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise would have been better choices. However, although I LOVE both of these women, I would like to see a talented "unknown" featured. But we know that won't happen because Holllywood wants to attract a large crowd and make money.

Which brings me to what Truth P said. I agree with her. Zoe is the "it girl" of the moment; the black actress flavor-of-the-month and I beleive that is the only reason they picked her for this part. They believe she will be a big box-office draw.

However, what bothers me the most about this movie is that it bastardizes an icon's life. They are making up a story where none existed and calling it a biopic. That's tragic. And inexcusable. I think they chose to focus on the fictional affair between Nina and her nurse because it makes for "great (widescreen) TV" and it's a safe topic. Really getting into Nina's life, her music, her struggle and her pain would require the white male execs to take a truthful and critical look at race, sex and class issues in Amerikkka and, well, they just don't want t go that deep. They are not interested in telling our stories; or telling them accurately. They want to make a buck off of us. IMO, Lisa stated it best:

"People, we've got to make our own movies and stop consuming big Hollywood garbage. Why do we accept that we need big Hollywood to tell our stories in the first place?? We still end up consumers, not producers of our own history, and powerless, as we see in this case, to control or shape our own imagery."


October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMommieDearest

Was Denzel in whiteface? If Zoe was such a great actress and her skin color didn't matter, then they wouldn't feel the need to put her in clown makeup and prosthetics. In my opinion, Denzel captured the essence of Malcolm X with nothing but the red hair. The same way that Angela Bassett captured the essence of Tina Turner without looking a thing like her. I like Zoe, but number one, I don't think that she is a great actress, just good and number two, if she or the director don't think that she can pull it off without this much artifice, maybe she is not the one.

By the way, I once saw a movie where Sidney Poitier was playing Thurgood Marshall, and as great as Sidney Poitier is, I thought that was ridiculous. Given the times, Justice Marshall's light skin and straight hair may have played a part in the opportunities that were afforded him, just as Nina Simone's dark skin and kinky hair played a part in the opportunities that she was denied. Sometimes you need the right skin color to tell the nuances of the story.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonnadara

Yeah when I first saw this, I thought this can't be right. Nothing against Zoe Saldana, although I've never closely followed her work. I just feel that Sanaa Lathan would have been perfect for this role. She's a wonderful actress and she can actually carry a tune and I'm sure she would have put on the extra weight if need be for the role (e.g., Disappearing Acts) as well. Also seems pretty rude that the surviving family members, especially her daughter were frozen out of this project. My goodness the nerve of some people!

It also irks me, that this particular industry pretends like there's not enough to go around. Why does there always have to be an "It" girl all the time; while everyone else fades into the background...what's up with that?! There must be a reason, I guess.

Lol!!...and I must agree w/ Gina, of course Nina Simone was deserving of a much better wig, c'mon now...smh!

P.S. Would love to see a film made on the life of Angela Davis, while she's still here gracing the face of the earth. This way she could give her own input. There are a few great entertainers who I think would do that role some justice.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCheri

First of all, people need to get off the kinky hair thing - Zoe Saldana has a relaxer/weave just like 90% of most black women in the U.S. If it's not a relaxer then it's a weave or other how straightened hair, like most everybody out here. I'm sure if she took her relaxer or weave out, it would be one of the many textures typical to Black people.
I don't see most U.S. Blacks walking around without their hair straightened, so what's the deal?

plus, Zoe Saldana is Black (i don't give one dizzamn if she is from Dominica, Africa, or Europe), she's still Black. Nobody makes a big deal about Idris Elba playing African American and he's a pure African, whose family lived in Europe, and he even has a heavyl british accent that he covers up for acting in the U.S. , for gawds sake.

So what if the girl is of Dominican descent? Lots of black people in the U.S. come from Carribean and Latin families - Sammy Davis jr., Maxwell, Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, Laz Alonso, Cubano Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte, etc, etc etc. People should proud that she's not ashamed of her African roots, as some Dominicans are.
To those who argue ethnicity and prefer an African American to play the role, fine, I understand. But if it's all about Black then Ms. Saldana fits the mode as she is as Black as anyone else, which does NOT exclude her from being Latina as well, as she has told everyone numerous times.

And so what if she's wearing makeup, wig, prosthetics? -Actors do it ALL the time to take on the look and feel of an individual. Plus, it's not as if she is all that light herself - I refuse to tow the colorline about saldana being light-skinned just because everyone else keeps hollering out obviously false information. Just because she's lighter than Simone doesn't mean she's light-skinned, sorry. I'm lighter than Nina Simone and am far from light skinned, so please.

I am in utter shock at the hypocrisy, ignorance and hate of so many Black people against this woman for just wanting to play a role. At least she's not ashamed to be seen in an Afro - I think many Black woman would rather chop off their right arm before sporting a natural, be it real or wig.

Plus, a cold camera shot snapped on the set of the movie is not the end product and does not give a good clue of how Ms. Saldana will look in the actual movie. i'm sure if you went on set of many movies, the makeup would seem obvious and garish. But that's not how it will look in the final film. Lighting and cinematography will smooth out any indication of her wearing stage makeup wigs, etc.

I think if more Black women stopped allowing the media to make them feel bad about who they really are, they wouldn't have these nonsensical reactions of offense to absolutely nothing. Also,if we assess these things impassionately, we'll remember to note that many African Americans also do not have Nina Simone's look and features. We have varied looks and actually, Simone had a very unique featuring. We should be proud of our divers looks, from Simone to Saldana to Lathan to Rashaad.

There is no reason for one group of Black women to hate another group of Black women. I'm glad Saldana is doing the role. Judging from these horrible reactions, it proves that she is a brave woman - and bravery does Nina Simone proud.

Much ado about nothing.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAJ

Also, has anyone ever considered that maybe ZS wanted to do this role to bring pride to Latin Blacks as well? Many Dominicans have been taught to hide from their African roots, so maybe she's saying "here i am, front and center".

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAJ

@AJ - great points. I don't get the vitriol that is directed at Zoe. I've seen her attacked many times, even before taking this role, because some people refuse to believe or accept that she is a Black woman even though she has stated it a number of times (along with stating that she is Latina). Many lighter-skinned and nearly White looking biracial actresses are readily accepted as Black without anyone batting an eye. Why the difference with Zoe?

Also, Actors and actresses have always altered their features (using prosthetics, wigs, etc.) to play non-fictional roles to achieve a look closer to the person that they are trying to portray. Hell Cate Blanchett even transformed herself for a role as Bob Dylan! So an actor/actress doesn't have to be even a close physical match to portray a certain character.

Now if the argument is that Zoe doesn't have the acting chops to play Ms. Simone, then you might have a valid argument. Her mainstream roles haven't been very meaty, but Zoe has done some great work in Indies (though the movie may have been terrible overall). She might be able to pull it off. Some actors do manage to a great performance depending on circumstance. Hopefully Zoe will do the role some justice especially with all the controversy surrounding her selection.

With all that said, I think Adepero Oduye who played in Pariah would have been the perfect choice for the role of Nina Simone. She doesn't have the recognition yet, so it would have be risky. The movie would probably have quietly come and gone without much fanfare.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersaadiyah

"I think if more Black women stopped allowing the media to make them feel bad about who they really are, they wouldn't have these nonsensical reactions of offense to absolutely nothing."

Sorry AJ, I don't get your point at all and clearly you don't get the point that many other women are so eloquently making. Just curious - if they were making a movie about Whoopi Goldberg how would you feel about Vanessa L. Williams being cast with a rasta wig, and some brown makeup and contacts? We are all black, right?

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonnadara

I read the comments on Facebook, some of which were rather extra. Some strong opinions on this one, though the colorism complaints befuddle me, given that Zoe is brown-skinned like many, if not most, (American) black women. Granted, she's not as dark as Nina, but most of the other actresses I've read as "better" choices aren't, either. I have my issues with Zoe, but none of them are related to perception of her blackness.

What IS troubling is the use of prosthetics on an actress portraying a real person. Thinking on the biopics I've seen or are at least aware of, use of prosthetics isn't used that often, even when the actor/actress looks nothing like the real person. Either cast someone who is enough in her likeness so that prosthetics aren't necessary, or own that you cast someone who looks nothing like her, and hope she can convey the essence of the character in her performance (beyond era-appropriate costuming, that is).

Most importantly, the filmmakers aren't acting in cooperation with the estate, Nina's legacy, so to me, even IF a Viola Davis or Anika Noni Rose or Kimberly Elise or Adepero Oduye had been cast, the film is still a bastardized fraud. Seems like many folks can't see the forest for the trees with this - too caught up in gnashing teeth over colorism, which is a worthy discussion, but also triggering and can't seem to be had without going off on the emotional deep end.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaphne

Were we not having a civil discussion? Did I miss something?...Gina asked...we answered. I think as grown women we should all be able to express our own opinions without them being misconstrued as spewing hate or vitriol. I hope Zoe Saldana does well. Nonetheless, the thoughts I've shared concerning this film are still my thoughts. When I learn more, I'll make the decision as to whether or not I'll patronize this film. Truthfully, I don't like hearing about how the family is being treated, frozen out, ignored and disrespected, so (for me) this all must be taken into consideration. Also my viewpoint on this is more so about paying homage to Nina Simone, a great icon, than about the actual actress portraying her. I'm not really concerned about Zoe's, or the film creator's personal motives, if it turns out that they're not respecting the family's wishes. Furthermore, I don't think anyone here is attacking Zoe. Wow, I guess one's perception is "everything". I still think Sanaa would've been the perfect choice, but Zoe was the actress chosen. And so?...nothing to hate on or loose sleep over...it is what it is.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCheri

"I like Zoe, but number one, I don't think that she is a great actress"

This is my biggest issue with all of this.Well that and the black face.I just don't think that Zoe has the chops to pull it off.And it is not because Zoe is a bad actress.She is NOT a bad actress at all.But I think with her not looking like Nina she would need to be great for this film.Angela did a great job at playing Tina despite not looking like her.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertruth p

"I think if more Black women stopped allowing the media to make them feel bad about who they really are, they wouldn't have these nonsensical reactions of offense to absolutely nothing"

I'm sorry Aj but I don't think this is about mere emotionalism.I think for a lot of dark skin actresses this is about economic and career opportunity.I think many dark skin actresses may be offended because they think they don't get enough work in Hollywood as it is and now on top of that they cannot play someone who looks similar to them.It does seem disrespectful even if unintentional.

I think that's the big part of all of this that most of you are missing. @Saadiyah Zoe maybe experiencing attacks from somewhere but unlike many darker skin actresses Zoe is constantly working.She is even playing roles of a great woman that she really doesn't look like.And as far as acting ability she seems slightly above average imo

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertruth p


A quote from another blog gave a great exampl : "Sidney Poitier, a very dark-skinned, kinky-haired Carribbean Black man, portrayed Thurgood Marshall, a very light-skinned, wavy-haired U.S. Afro-American".

'nuff said.

October 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAJ

Well that got Angelina Jolie to play a mixed afro-cuban woman so I guess no one should be surprised at this. Long sigh.

I think Zoe is the "It" black actress of the moment as others have stated and that's why she got the role. I find it really annoying since race - how she looked was a BIG part of SImone's life. And this doesn't do her any favors. It's like when Oprah made Tea Cake the light skinned Ealy when he was as dark as midnight and his coloring was a BIG part of the story.

It loses it's punch. It's authenticity. There are plenty of actresses who wouldn't have needed blackface of prosthetics to play the role. And like another poster mentioned, while I like Zoe, she's not a strong actress. Can't say I will be watching this one.

October 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

i think Regina King or Kimberly Elise would have been better choices. Either one of them! They both have the look and the talent that would be needed to make the audience connect to the struggles Nina had to go through. Despite how Nina Simone felt about herself, it's a shame that during that period of time she wasn't fully appreciated for her talent AND her beauty!!!! If Zoe is gonna do this movie, I hope she understands that she must help the audience to see past the obvious (her caramel complexion), and help them to understand Nina's pain. I really hope she can do that.

October 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternatalie

I think that in most film biographies, we look for a REASONABLE resemblance between the actor and the subject. For instance, I enjoyed Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in part because he was made up to resemble him.

On the other hand, when Jeffrey Wright played MLK, Jr., the lack of a physical resemblance was disconcerting for me. Paul Winfield worked much better for me playing Dr. King.

Having seen Nina Simone perform in Harlem at her height, I can safely say that casting Zoe Saldana is just too much of a visual stretch for me (but it ain't my money producing the film, so good luck with that...).

October 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWanda

@ AJ, if you bothered to read my original post, you would have seen that I mentioned that Sidney Poiter played Thurgood Marshall and how inauthentic that was and why. Before you address me, read what I wrote.

October 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonnadara

Well, it is what it is. If Zoe is too lightskinned for some of you, then don't watch the film. Again, Denzel Washington is a darkskinned Black man and he played Malcolm X. I don't recall an uproar over that choice.

And the use of prosthetics seems to be routine in Hollywood. Charlize Theron won an Oscar for playing a serial killer and used fake teeth and other prosthetics to "uglify" herself for the role.

I was a bit perplexed when Anthony Hopkins was cast as a biracial man in the movie "The Human Stain", but had to shrug it off. Hollywood has its reasons for making casting choices.

October 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLorna Jerome

This is yet another form of black pain pimping or black female pain pimping IMHO. The entertainment industry enjoys masturbating in a distorted image of blackness and black women. To hell with them and everyone who supports them.

October 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMiriam

Two thoughts.

First, I commend Zoe and the production team for acknowledging that even though both women are of African descent, there are physical differences that must be accounted for. I'm glad Zoe put on a wig, padded her butt, darkened her skin, created an overbite and decided to wear a prosthetic nose. What is concerning is that from the pictures in this post, the special effects make-up is poorly done and looks cut-rate. This is "Once Upon a Time"-special effects bad.

Secondly, looking at vintage videos of Simone you notice that there is something undefinable about her. She was an volcano of grit, talent and emotion contained in a vessel of regal bearing, refinement, and gravitas. She had a commanding presence that was evident even in her earliest appearances. I like Zoe. I loved her in Colombiana. I really don't think she has the chops to play Nina.

October 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

Wow I can't believe all this negativity. All these actresses that the commenters mentioned, where they even available during the casting call/audition? What if they were approached about playing Nina, but turned it down? Did anyone even considered this?? Yes there are black actresses who look closer to Nina than Zoe ever would, but at the end of the day, it's not a look alike contest. She went to the audition like everyone else, and she obviously impressed the casters by her acting and not by her looks which is quite obvious because she doesn't look anything like Nina. I do not believe that Zoe was the only person approached to play this role.
Most black women don't even look like Nina so I really don't see what the big fuss is about. If they had cast Anika, Kimberly or even Viola, then they too would have to wear an afro wig because like most black women, non of these actresses are wearing their natural hair! And none of them look like Nina either.

Zoe is a hard working actress and she doesn't deserve all the hate. She is a hard working black woman and she deserves a lot more respect from the black community. It breaks my heart that people are being so mean and wishing for the movie to flop even before it comes out. What is wrong with these people?? This makes me so depress. I support all black actresses in hollywood and Zoe deserves our support, so please stop being so negative, mean, and wait till the movie comes out before you pass anymore judgements! Geez!

October 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermaria

Nina's Voice ----> http://vimeo.com/21677897

<p>Nina Interview-College Students from Gregory Epler on Vimeo.</p>

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterApril Davis

@ Maria, Thank you!

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLL

Hi, Blogmother, longtime lurker here
What I don't think people get is that once you keep using biracial women to replace black women, the guess what? Their (casting directors) are gonna start replacing biracial actresses with white actress, etc. Domino effect people. In the BC it started with light skinned BW, then they moved on to mixed BW, and finally non-BW. This happens all the time. Why's it so hard for Hollywood to cast black actresses for black female historical figures? Oh, well. I'll probably skip this movie but I still like Zoe. I just can't support us being replace once again.

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjillodelight

@jill you don't think casting directors haven't been casting biracial Black women? Halle Berry? Michelle Michelle? I could go on.

I think people are actually scared to think critically about how to respond to this- so they have come up with this imaginary narrative that if they scream loud enough they'll get the result they want. If this was ad supported media, they would be right, but this isn't ad supported media. It is financed by what I am assuming are private investors. You can't keep it out of theaters so what's your next option.

People have a right to be upset, but don't get mad at me for pointing out an ineffective strategy. I dind't say go see the movie. I just said your protests aren't really moving the dial forward. It makes you feel good, but you're powerless under this scenario.

October 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterThe Blogmother

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