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Zoë Saldaña has reportedly signed on to play legendary songstress Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic. The film, which will also star David Oyelowo (‘The Help’), has been in the making for many years now. Originally, Mary J. Blige signed on to portray Nina. However, due to issues with funding, the singer decided to leave the project to focus on other endeavors.
The news of Blige’s departure came as a surprise to fans as she has been extremely vocal about her love and admiration for the late jazz musician. She even went as far as to use a sample of Simone’s “You Know How I Feel,” a single from her seventh studio album, The Breakthrough, featuring music producer will.i.am.
News of Saldaña’s participation in the biopic has stirred mixed emotions. While no one is criticizing Saldaña’s ability to act the part, many are up in arms about her appearance in contrast to Simone’s. Simone was a dark-skinned African-American woman with coarse hair, a wide nose and full lips. Saldaña is an Afro-Latina, but her features may not “African enough” in the eyes of critics.
The decision to cast a woman who, despite being featured in numerous films with largely African-American casts, has largely identified as a Latina does not sit well with African-Americans. Many claim that it is hard enough for African-American actresses in Hollywood to gain respectable roles while competing with one another. Why add a ‘non-African-American’ into the mix and further complicate things?
For what it’s worth, Saldaña is proud of her mixed race. In her September 2011 cover story for Ebony Magazine, she states, “I am proud of my roots.” She goes on to acknowledge, however, that she doesn’t “identify as much with U.S. American History as I do with Latin American History. And so, I have bones to pick with Latin American people. There’s a lot of growing that we still have to do that we aren’t doing. We have to continue accepting our indigenous and our African heritage just as much as we embrace our European [blood].” The cover itself said it all: “Latina, Black, Fierce…”
While she is not ashamed of her heritage, she will not allow it to define her. She rarely speaks of it, which is another reason why some people are unwilling to accept her participation in this film. There are many who are not aware of the aforementioned interview in which she proclaimed that she is, indeed, partially black.
Simone rose to fame as a jazz singer in the late 1950s and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. She later lived a life of self-imposed exile from a country in which she never felt comfortable in. She died in Europe in 2003.
Production of ‘Nina’ will begin in October.