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Zoe Saldana Regrets Playing Nina Simone in Misbegotten Biopic: ‘She Deserved Better’

At the time of the film's release, Simone's estate called Saldana's casting "gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing."

Nina

“Nina”

Suzanne Tenner/RLJ Entertainment

Actress Zoe Saldana revealed that she regrets ever starring as Nina Simone in writer/director Cynthia Mort’s controversial 2016 biopic, “Nina.” The actress discussed her role — which required a prosthetic nose, fake teeth, and makeup to darken her skin — in a recent Instagram live conversation hosted by B-ESE with “Pose” co-creator Steven Canals.

“I should have never played Nina,” Saldana said (via Entertainment Weekly). “I should have done everything in my power, with the leverage that I had 10 years ago — which was a different [amount of] leverage, but it was leverage nonetheless. I should’ve tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman.”

When she was cast in 2012, after replacing Mary J. Blige, Saldana already had mixed feelings about taking on the High Priestess of Soul. But distance from the film and its notoriously bungled production, she said, has led to necessary reflection. “That’s [growth] and it’s painful. I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman, and I am. But it was Nina Simone, and Nina had a life and she had a journey that should’ve been and should be honored to the most specific detail because she was a specifically detailed individual about her voice, her opinions, her views, her music, and her art. And she was so honest. She deserved better.”

At the time of the film’s long-stalled release, Nina Simone’s estate took to Twitter to decry the casting. “Please take Nina’s name out of your mouth. For the rest of your life. Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing. It shall pass, but for now.” The film was inevitably shredded by critics, with a whopping 2% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Back in 2016, Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly went on record to somewhat defend Saldana against criticisms in a Time interview. “It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” Kelly said. “It’s clear she brought her best to this project, but unfortunately she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.”

During the Instagram chat (watch below), Saldana got emotional as she offered a heartfelt apology to Simone’s family and fans. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry because I love her music,” she said. “It wasn’t enough. With that said, she’s one of our giants and someone else should step-up. Somebody else should tell her story.”

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