Zoe Saldana Says She “Should Have Never Played” Nina Simone, Wants Another Black Actress To “Step Up” And Accurately Portray Simone’s Life

Zoe Saldana reveals that she regrets taking on the role of iconic singer, songwriter, and activist Nina Simone. 

When the announcement that Saldana, an Afro-Latina of lighter-complexion, would be portraying Simone in Cynthia Mort’s 2016 biopic, Nina, the actress faced an immense amount of backlash from fans and the Black community. Many called out the horrific choice to put the actress in blackface to play the role and the neglect to cast an actual dark-skinned woman to play Simone. 

During a live stream, Saldana apologized for her decision to take on the role and her failure to advocate for other Black actors. “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.”

Aside from just her skin being darkened, the film’s production crew also fixed Saldana up with a prosthetic nose to imitate Simone’s features. Many called out Saldana’s negligence to acknowledge colorism and her light-skin privilege. “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.”

Cast alongside Saldana was David Oyelowo, Kevin Mambo, Mike Epps, and Keith David. Who wrote and directed the film? Cynthia Mort, A white TV writer who came from TV shows like Roseanne and Will & Grace.

Now, Saldana says she wants someone to “step up” and portray Simone’s story accurately. “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.”

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