Zoe Saldana has been on the receiving end of some really harsh backlash for her portrayal of legendary singer Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic.
Things came to a head on Wednesday when the verified Twitter account of Nina Simone’s estate tweeted, “Please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life,” in response to Zoe sharing a quote from the late singer.
Lisa Simone Kelly, Nina’s only child, told TIME that she was unaware that the Twitter account representing her mother’s estate even tweeted that. Her family said they had hired family friend Aaron Overfield to manage the official website and Facebook page years ago. Overfield did not return requests for comment.
[Zoe] — who dons dark makeup to play the late jazz and blues singer in the upcoming biopic, Nina — has come under fire since being cast for the role over a black actress with darker skin that would more closely resemble Simone’s. But most of the criticism is misdirected, Simone’s daughter told TIME in a rare interview Thursday. “It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” said Simone Kelly, 53, who is also an actress and singer. “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.”
Outrage over the casting and storyline should be steered towards the film’s director, Cynthia Mort, Simone Kelly said. The daughter has disavowed the movie for at least a decade and said the family was not consulted during its production. Nina focuses on Simone’s personal relationship with her manager Clifton Henderson, played by David Oyelowo. The cinematic version of the story falsely depicts the iconic singer, her family said. It’s about the “the name you know” but “the story you don’t,” according to the biopic’s trailer, which was released Wednesday.
“The movie is about a relationship between my mother and Clifton which never took place. They never had an amorous relationship,” Simone Kelly said, adding that Henderson was a gay man. “The project has been tainted from the very beginning. Clearly, it is not the truth about my mother’s life and everyone now knows that. This is not how you want your loved ones remembered.”
Watching the trailer didn’t stir much emotion for Simone Kelly, who has been vocal against its production since 2006. “I really didn’t feel much of anything except for poor Zoe,” she said. Simone Kelly’s husband, Rob Kelly, said it was difficult to watch the clip, which begins with a scene in which Saldana is strapped to a hospital bed after fighting doctors. “Everything from the first scene when she’s strapped to a gurney is a lie,” Kelly, 49, said. “We’re both very passionate about her legacy being told the right way. What she actually accomplished is not common, and most people don’t know that.”
While the family is “not upset with Zoe,” Simone Kelly said she didn’t think the actress was the “proper choice, appearance-wise.” “There are many superb actresses of color who could more adequately represent my mother and could bring her to the screen with the proper script, the proper team and a sense of wanting to bring the truth of my mother’s journey to the masses,” she said. “And Nina, in my opinion, doesn’t do any of that.”
If you haven’t seen the ‘Nina’ trailer, check it out here.