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Shortly after the trailer for the biopic Nina hit the internet, Zoe Saldana faced heavy criticism for her portrayal of legendary soul singer Nina Simone. Scenes featuring the actress of Afro-Latina descent with skin darkening makeup and facial prosthetics stirred public outcries of the film. Simone’s estate even tweeted, “Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”
The actress and mother of two responded to the criticism in an interview with Allure.
“There’s no one way to be black,” Saldana said. “I’m black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I’m raising black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.”
She added, “The fact that we’re talking about her, that Nina Simone is trending? We f—ing won. For so many years, nobody knew who the f— she was. She is essential to our American history. As a woman first, and only then as everything else.”
Saldana also commented on the facial prosthetics she wore in the film.
“I never saw her as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family,” she said. “But if you think the [prosthetic] nose I wore was unattractive, then maybe you need to ask yourself, What do you consider beautiful? Do you consider a thinner nose beautiful, so the wider you get, the more insulted you become?”
Stars including Paula Patton and Queen Latifah defended Saldana, as well as Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelley, who said “It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture.” The Allure cover story also revealed that the actress turned down the role in the Cynthia Mort-directed film for a year.
“The script probably would still be lying around, going from office to office, agency to agency, and nobody would have done it,” said Saldana. “Female stories aren’t relevant enough, especially a black female story. I made a choice. Do I continue passing on the script and hope that the ‘right’ black person will do it, or do I say, ‘You know what? Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing in comparison to the fact that this story must be told.’
“Let it be the first movie. If you think you can do it better, then by all means,” continued Saldana. “Let ours be version number one of 10 stories in the next 10 years about the f—ing iconic person that was Nina Simone.”
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