In a new interview with Allure, Zoe Saldana addresses the controversy surrounding her role as Nina Simone in Cynthia Mort’s biopic, Nina.
Despite the backlash, Zoe says she has absolutely no regrets and is glad the story was told.
“There’s no one way to be black,” she says quietly and slowly, clearly choosing her words carefully. “I’m black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I’m raising black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.”
The very idea that Saldana could be considered too pretty to play Simone seems to make the actress more sad than defensive. “I never saw her as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family!” she says. “But if you think the [prosthetic] nose I wore was unattractive, then maybe you need to ask yourself, What do you consider beautiful? Do you consider a thinner nose beautiful, so the wider you get, the more insulted you become?”
What seemed to drive criticism about Saldana daring to take the role—one she turned down for a year, by the way—was not just the idea that she wore skin-darkening makeup to play Simone but the even deeper affront that the job went to someone seen as apolitical. This characterization doesn’t necessarily square with Saldana’s own experiences. “Reading all the postings for castings for the 20 years I’ve been an actress, there’s so often that last line about ‘the director wants to go traditional with this part,'” she says—meaning Caucasian. “But every now and then, I encounter filmmakers like James Cameron, J. J. Abrams, Ben Affleck, James Gunn, and they go, ‘Why not you? You’re “traditional.” You’re everything.'”
Still, she has no regrets. “The script probably would still be lying around, going from office to office, agency to agency, and nobody would have done it. Female stories aren’t relevant enough, especially a black female story,” she says. “I made a choice. Do I continue passing on the script and hope that the ‘right’ black person will do it, or do I say, ‘You know what? Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing in comparison to the fact that this story must be told.'”
“The fact that we’re talking about her, that Nina Simone is trending? We fucking won,” Saldana continues. “For so many years, nobody knew who the fuck she was. She is essential to our American history. As a woman first, and only then as everything else.”
“Let it be the first movie,” Saldana says. “If you think you can do it better, then by all means. Let ours be version number one of ten stories in the next ten years about the fucking iconic person that was Nina Simone.”
As much as we weren’t here for the casting choice, we like Zoe’s perspective on the whole thing. We’re looking forward to the NEXT Nina Simone biopic.