We reached out to Nina Simone's daughter, Simone (born Lisa Celeste Stroud), for an interview last week, but the folks at Ebony magazine beat us to it!
And in their interview with her, done by Dream Hampton, posted today, Simone fills in a few more holes for us, answering specific questions about casting, her involvement in the project, and more; I urge you to read the entire piece. It's short, but worth it!
Pieces of the interview that I found most interesting:
– First, she says that the one actress she's had in her heart for a very long time, to play her mother, is an actress that I don't think anyone mentioned: Kimberly Elise! Maybe someone did, but the most popular names mentioned were Adepero Oduye and Viola Davis. However, Simone does note that many have recommended Viola to her as well.
– Secondly, in response to the question about Zoe Saldana's casting, Simone states:
I love Zoe Saldana’s work. I’ve seen some of her movies more than once and really enjoy what she brings to the screen. As an actress I respect her process, but I also know that there are many actresses out there, known or not, who would be great as my mother. The one actress that I’ve had in my heart for a very long time, whose work I’m familiar with already, is Kimberly Elise. Many people have spoken to me about Viola. I love her look. I love her energy. Both of the actresses that I’ve mentioned are women of color, are women with beautiful, luscious lips and wide noses, and who know their craft.
And as maybe a nod to Adepero Oduye, Simone adds that she'd also not have any problems casting someone *unknown".
– Third, in response to her non-involvement in the project, she said that, from the start, when Mary J. Blige wanted to make the film, several years ago, Nina Simone's family, nor any representatives, were contacted, and she (Simone) was very concerned, stating:
How does someone just decide to do a story about someone and completely bypass family? Completely bypass her representatives? We offered to get involved with all the stuff that we have, from the music, to the pictures, to her writings, to connecting them with the stories of many people who were close to my mother, and we were ignored.
Certainly not a good way to launch a project; at the very least, meet with the family, even if nothing comes of that meeting; don't ignore them – especially if they actually request that you consider their involvement/input. What were Mary J. Blige and Cynthia Mort thinking? I don't quite understand what may have been running through their heads. We're talking about an icon here. You can't just dismiss the family and not expect some pushback. At the very least, I'd think that Mary J. Blige (at least) would've known better, being a musician, a public figure herself, and black.
Simone says that she did speak with Cynthia Mort once, a year and a half ago, saying that it was all very emotional for her; she said that Mort seems to really believe in what she's doing, although I don't think that eases Sinone's concerns a bit. She made what I thought was a very poignant comment – a comment she said she made to Mort as well, during their conversation:
I do remember saying to her that if any of us tried to take the story of Bing Crosby or, Dean Martin, or Frank Sinatra, or Elvis Presley and turn it into something that was a tall tale based on something that never happened, I doubt that we’d get very far.
She's probably referring to the fact that Clifton Henderson (the character David Oyelowo is attached to play) was gay, and thus, Nina Simone and Clifton Henderson never had a relationship other than a business one, even though the proposed film project implies otherwise; after all, it is described as a love story between the two.
– And fourth, she does address something that I brought up in my last post on this – specifically, that some would argue that a lack of influence by the person, or anyone related (personally or in business) to the person who's at the center of the biography, could have some effect on the overall project, as we've seen in recent years with planned projects centered on the lives of prominent figures like Martin Luther King Jr that have stalled because influential parties who were close to him, took issue with planned depictions of his so-called vices.
But Simone makes it clear that this is not an issue.
No, not at all. Her life is educational, inspirational, entertaining, and downright shocking at times. My mother was good at shocking people. She enjoyed it and she did it well. So why do we need to embellish, to build a tall tale? That is what Cynthia Mort has done […] In my opinion, she came in through the back door […] I asked her ‘How did you get in contact with Clifton?’ She said she googled him. I asked her ‘If you googled him, I was starring on Broadway at the time. I’m her only child. I’m not hard to find. Why didn’t you contact me?’ […] She told me she was told not to contact me […] When Cynthia and I ended the call, we agreed to talk again the next day. I felt like we’d broken some really good ground that we’d created a place from which we could continue to communicate. But when I called into the conference call the next day, I was the only one on the line.
Unfortunate. I wonder who's advising Cynthia Mort on this??? She may not even be the one pulling the strings.
As I said before, all this negative attention just doesn't bode well for the project at this point; will any of this have any effect on the production? It's already scheduled to begin shooting in the fall, so maybe nothing is going to stop, or even slow down this train.
But knowing what I know now, I'm turned off even more by the whole thing. I'm still stuck on the fact that Simone actually reached out to them, but they ignored her! Like I said, at least have a conversation. Don't just ignore and dismiss. It's disrespectful!
And like Simone said, imagine if this were a Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley project; I doubt this is how things would develop.
You can read the full interview HERE.