*Zoe Saldana caught major heat when she decided to portray Nina Simone in Cynthia Mort’s 2016 biopic “Nina.”
Saldana’s skin was darkened for the role and her nose enhanced with a prosthesis, which prompted outrage among Simone fans. Many called it a form of blackface.
Musician India.Arie even said “they should have chosen someone who looks like Nina Simone.” An online petition was also launched calling for a boycott of the film.
During a recent livestream with “Pose” creator Steven Canals, the actress made clear that taking on the role was a bad move. Saldana admits she should have used her position to advocate for other Black actors, USA Today reports.
The ‘Avatar” star, who identifies as Afro-Latina with a Dominican father and Puerto Rican, says Nina “deserved better.”
“I should have never played Nina,” she said Monday. “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.”
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Zoe Saldana (@zoesaldana) sits down with “Pose” (@poseonfx) creator and executive producer Steven Canals (@stevencanals) to chat about Afro-Latinidad, colorism in the Latinx community, Nina Simone, and more. #AfroLatinx #AfroLatinidad #BESE #ZoeSaldana #StevenCanals #Pose #PoseFX #AfroLatinos #Dominican #PuertoRican
In a 2013 interview, Saldana defended her casting, saying: “The Nina Simone story needed to be told, and I’m really blessed that I did it. I’m human. I wish I was made of steel and so certain things wouldn’t affect me. Just like everybody else I feel very strongly about Nina Simone, and that (this) was a story that needed to be told. I do believe that if everybody had more information about how this all came to be, it might help,” she added. “But then again, I’m not here to get the acceptance of people. I’m here to be an artist first.”
Even Simone’s daughter, Simone Kelly, had an issue with the casting choice. “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise this is not the best choice,” she told the New York Times in 2012.
Saldana would later tell InStyle magazine that she wasn’t right for the part.
“I didn’t think I was right for the part, and I know a lot of people will agree, but then again, I don’t think Elizabeth Taylor was right for Cleopatra either,” she said in the interview. “An artist is colorless, genderless… It’s more complex than just ‘Oh, you chose the Halle Berry look-alike to play a dark, strikingly beautiful, iconic black woman.’ The truth is, they chose an artist who was willing to sacrifice herself. We needed to tell her story because she deserves it.”
Saldana says she now fully understands why her casting was problematic.
“I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman,” she told Canals. “And I am. But, it’s Nina. And Nina had a life and a journey that should be honored to the specific detail… she deserved better.”
She added. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry because I love her music.”
“We’ve been appropriating ourselves with someone like Nina Simone for a very long time,” Saldana said through tears. “And I just want her story to be told and I want it to be right because she deserves it.”
Scroll up and watch the full interview via the Instagram embed above.