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Zoe Saldana Dishes on Behind-the-Scenes Mismanagement of Nina Simone Film

Zoe Saldana Dishes on Behind-the-Scenes Mismanagement of Nina Simone Film

Two months ago, RLJ Entertainment announced its acquisition of all North American rights to “Nina,” the Nina Simone biopic that Zoe Saldana stars in; the one that found itself at the center of much criticism over Saldana’s casting; a film that’s been in limbo for a long while. A December release date was eyed, although given what Saldana says in the below quote from an interview she gave to Latina.com, published just a couple of days ago, the film may not even be finished yet.

When asked about “Nina,” specifically how she prepared for the role, and the criticism she faced when it was announced that she’d been cast in the film (and since then), Saldana said (emphasis mine): “I needed to walk her path. As a woman, it wasn’t difficult to empathize with another woman. But I needed to be very isolated. I moved out of my house for three months. I wasn’t really talking to anybody that I knew. I just needed to be all things Nina. It was so intense, and everything happened really fast. The people behind the project weren’t my cup of tea. The director was fine, but there was a lot of mismanagement, which is why we’re still here three years later. And I’m still trying to fight with everybody to get the movie finished. Nina deserves better.”

And when the interviewer asks whether she’s still “haunted” by Nina Simone (although I’m not quite sure what he/she meant by that specifically), Saldana replied (again, emphasis mine): “Still to this day, I can’t listen to her music. I’ll be able to listen to her and not feel so heartbroken once I either finish this movie and release it, knowing that we did the best we could, or this movie goes away. I pray that somebody tells her story and they do it amazingly well. And then I’ll just put this to rest. But so far I’m still hanging in there with her. We’re still fighting together to tell it like it is. And that’s the best way to be.”

So in reading all of that, I’m left wondering whether the film is still in play for December, because it sounds like it’s not entirely complete. Although Saldana doesn’t go into specifics when she says that the movie needs to be “finished” so that it can finally be released, or buried altogether.

I wish the interviewer had pressed her a bit more to elaborate on what she meant specifically. 

Also interesting that she dishes a bit on some of the behind-the-scenes happenings on the project – the “mismanagement” of it, not caring for the “people behind the project” who she says weren’t her cup of tea – and her still having to “fight with everybody to get the movie finished.” 

A troubled production, it sounds like, acknowledging that Nina Simone “deserves better.” 

Indeed. 

But maybe it shouldn’t all be a surprise, since, as you might recall, a year ago, the director of the film, Cynthia Mort, was reportedly none-too-pleased with developments regarding the production of the film, leading to her taking legal action, which may have been what’s, in part, held up the film’s release to date.

Mort filed a lawsuit last year against the British backers of the film, Ealing Studios, claiming that the company effectively cut her out of the decision making process during production, and, as a result, she was not at all happy with the version of the film that was to be screened for potential distributors.

According to the lawsuit, Mort had rights over the developing picture and got approval over the final shooting script, the cast and crew, the line producer, the designer and all department head as well as consulting rights on advertising, distribution, shooting schedule and budget.

However, as the suit further stated that, “throughout the course of the film’s production and post-production, defendants consistently acted to frustrate Mort’s involvement in the film, thereby breaching the Director Agreement. These breaches by the Defendants include, but are not limited to: taking complete control of editing the Film in June 2013 and failing to consult with Mort about subsequent cuts and changes; abandoning Mort’s previous cuts of the Film; failing to disclose the Film’s financials, finishing budget, and financing deals; and failing to keep Mort informed of other crucial creative and budgetary developments and decisions throughout production and post-production of the Film.”

Mort was seeking monetary damages (the amount wasn’t made public), as well as “a declaration that the defendants can’t make decisions without her meaningful approval and consultation.”

I assumed all these matters had been resolved, when, 2 months ago, RLJ Entertainment announced its acquisition of the film, and planned December release. But Saldana’s interview suggests that there may still be some problems behind the camera, whether related to Mort’s case, or other matters entirely.

I think many of you would likely prefer that the film just be buried altogether, and everyone moves on. Saldana herself even kind of hints at that possibility in her interview. The film just seems like it’s been doomed since the start, given what else we now know.

But this isn’t the first time that Saldana has maybe sort of slyly talked down the film. In a previous interview she gave to InStyle Magazine in July of this year, she admitted that she didn’t think she was right for the part initially, but went into it prepared to give it her all.

In development for at least 6 years, Mary J. Blige was initially attached to star in the film, but she was eventually replaced by Saldana, who brought more international box office gravitas to the production. 

The one constant actor throughout the ordeal has been David Oyelowo, cast from the beginning to play Simone’s Paris-based manager Clifton Henderson. 

Mike Epps plays Richard Pryor in the film (he’ll be starring in Lee Daniels’ Richard Pryor biopic as well).

There still isn’t much official media from the film; the above new image comes courtesy of RLJ Entertainment, who I’m sure will be releasing more photos, clips, of course a trailer, at some point – assuming any existing completion problems are resolved. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s quietly released on DVD and VOD platforms. So don’t be surprised if you’re flipping through Netflix’s offerings one day in the near future, and find “Nina” listed.

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