Zoe Saldana says she ‘should never have played’ Nina Simone following 2012 blackface row

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ star was condemned in 2012 for wearing dark make-up, false teeth and a prosthetic nose to play legendary performer

Adam White
Wednesday 05 August 2020 07:26 BST
Zoe Saldana says she 'never should have played Nina Simone'

Zoe Saldana has said she “should never have played” Nina Simone in a maligned biopic, after being accused of donning blackface for the role.

The Guardians of the Galaxy actor was engulfed in controversy in 2012 when she was cast as the celebrated performer in a film titled Nina.

Saldana, who is a light-skinned woman of Puerto Rican, Dominican and Haitian descent, wore a full bodysuit, prosthetic nose and false teeth to play Simone. She was also accused of donning blackface for the role, having worn dark make-up during filming.

Simone’s estate condemned the casting on Twitter, urging Saldana to “take Nina’s name out of your mouth for the rest of your life”. Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, also said that the project was “not how you want your loved ones remembered”.

In a new live-stream published to her Instagram, in which she breaks down in tears, Saldana expressed regret over starring in the film.

“I should have never played Nina,” Saldana said. “I should have done everything in my power with the leverage that I had 10 years ago – which was a different leverage but it was leverage nonetheless – I should have tried everything in my power to cast a black woman to play an exceptionally perfect black woman.”

Saldana continued: “I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a black woman – and I am. But it’s Nina, and Nina had a life and a journey that should be honoured to the most specific detail because she was a specifically detailed individual … She deserved better, and I am so sorry.”

Saldana also called on filmmakers to revisit Simone’s story, adding that “the Americans who inhabit today’s America deserve her story to be told”.

In 2016, Saldana defended playing Simone, arguing that “there is no one way to be black”.

“I’m black the way I know how to be,” she said, adding that she “never saw [Simone] as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family! But if you think the 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?”

Filmed in 2012 but left sat on a shelf until 2016, Nina was a box-office flop and earned poor reviews from critics. Mary J Blige had previously been attached to the project, but was replaced by Saldana shortly before production began.

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