Nina Simone Zoe Saldana

Nina Simone's daughter defends Zoe Saldana following backlash over casting

Ever since Zoe Saldana was confirmed to portray Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic about the late singer’s life, the casting decision has received a lot of backlash, with some claiming that the filmmakers are “white-washing” Simone.

The controversy was re-ignited last Wednesday (March 2) when the first trailer for the project was released, and appeared to show Zoe’s skin had been darkened with make-up to better resemble the African-American musical icon. Saldana, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, has also come under fire from Simone’s official Twitter account, when it tweeted her, saying: “Please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”

While Simone’s estate representatives and the musicians brother have made it clear they disapprove of the casting, Nina’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, has come to the defense of Saldana, telling Time magazine:

“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” the 53-year-old-singer-actress told the outlet. “It’s clear she brought he best to the project, but unfortunately she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.”

India Arie, who portrayed the late legendary singer in a 2003 episode of NBC drama American Dreams, also shared her thoughts on Saldana’s portrayal of Simone in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Arie, who saw an early screening of Nina in 2013, told the publication, “It made me sad. The way she looked in the movie was ugly.” While Arie doesn't place blame on Saldana, she does believe that this cinematic treatment of Simone fails to understand the icon's legacy and impact. 

Photo credit: Screengrab/RLJ Entertainment 

She continued: "I think the best way to say it is that they casted her against type and went too far to make her fit. It's not my place to say how Zoe Saldana perceives herself, and I can't say how anybody else perceives her either. I see her as a black person of Hispanic origin, but I don't even know what that really means, because I don't know anything about race and Hispanic culture."

"Whether or not Nina Simone was beautiful in your eyes, I thought she was beautiful. But in this movie, she just looked weird. Her skin looked weird, and her nose looked weird. It made me wonder, was that how the filmmakers see her? Did they not think she was beautiful? Were they like, 'Yeah, we got it! That's how she looked'."

Nina is set to hit theaters April 22.