Casting Zoe Saldana as the legendary Nina Simone caused major backlash and controversy in the African-American community because of Saldana's skin color. Saldana, who is of Puerto Rican and Dominican ancestry, is much lighter than Simone and wore dark makeup to resemble her. When Saldana tweeted that she was honored to portray Simone, the Nina Simone Foundation replied, "Dear Zoe, please keep Nina's name out of your mouth for the rest of your life."
Lisa Simone Kelly would later defend Saldana clarifying that it was unfortunate that Zoe Saldana was being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture," Simone Kelly told Time Magazine. "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."
Simone Kelly clarified that the harsh tweet aimed at Saldana from the official and verified Nina Simone Twitter account came not from the Simone estate but a family friend who was hired to run the singer's social media. See more »
After the big hoo-ha about how bad this film is, in particular because of Zoe Saldana's casting, I decided to give this movie a shot.
I know virtually nothing about Nina Simone's life, but this film does not want to portray what her life was during her prime. Instead it relies on itty bitty pieces of dialogue during interviews and conversations with Nina's old friend Richard Pryor. It is set during the last decade of her life, when she is mentally ill, unstably alcoholic and very difficult to tolerate. Clifton (David Oyelowo), the nurse at the mental hospital where she is interred, takes her in, looks after her and eventually becomes her manager.
The real problem with this movie is, glaringly, the time period of Nina's life. It's not a good one, and very little happens in the movie. We start her off as a little girl defying racial segregation so that her parents can sit in the front row. Nothing else is shown of her rise to fame and struggles, which makes the film feel very empty.
One thing I really didn't like is the erasure of Clifton's homosexuality. Although he and Nina are not seen intimate with each other (at one point she calls him the F word when he refuses to have sex with her) there is a small implication. Why couldn't they show everyone he was gay?
The last thing is of course Zoe Saldana as Nina. I personally feel the criticism (and it was extremely scornful) was very unfair. She did the best with what she was given, and she should be praised for it. The problem is not the color of her skin, its the age. She is supposed to be in her sixties, and yet Saldana is actually younger than David Oyelowo! They really couldn't find an older actress?
At times the movie was painfully boring, badly paced and perhaps unintentionally funny. 5 out 10.
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