Actress Zoe Saldana has tearfully apologized for playing the role of Nina Simone in the 2016 movie Nina, citing her lack of African-American heritage, and saying the late iconic singer and civil rights activist “deserved better.”
Saldana, who is of Dominican, Puerto Rican, Haitian, and Lebanese ancestry, said in an interview on Instagram Live with Pose creator Steven Canals that she regretted taking the role in which she wore a prosthetic nose and skin-darkening makeup to more closely resemble Simone.
“I should have never played Nina,” Saldana said tearfully. “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 done everything in my power to cast a black woman to play an exceptionally perfect black woman.”
The film was derided by both critics and audiences alike and retains a dismal two percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Simone’s family refused to endorse the film and criticized Saldana’s casting.
“I love Zoe Saldana, we all love Zoe… From Avatar to Colombiana, I’ve seen those movies a few times,” Nina Simone’s daughter Simone Kelly said back in 2012. “But not every project is for everybody. And I know what my mother would think. I just don’t get it.”
Saldana, meanwhile, said her Haitian descent made her think she could take on the role but admitted that Simone “deserved better” than herself.
“I thought back then that I had the permission [to play her] because I was a black woman,” the Guardians of the Galaxy star said tearfully. “And I am. But it was Nina Simone. And Nina had a life and she had a journey that should have been – and should be – honored to the most specific detail because she was a specifically detailed individual.”
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Zoe Saldana (@zoesaldana) sits down with "Pose" (@poseonfx) creator and executive producer Steven Canals (@stevencanals) to chat about Afro-Latinidad, colorism in the Latinx community, Nina Simone, and more. #AfroLatinx #AfroLatinidad #BESE #ZoeSaldana #StevenCanals #Pose #PoseFX #AfroLatinos #Dominican #PuertoRican
“With that said: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I know better today and I’m never going to do that again,” she continued. “She’s one of our giants and someone else should step up. Somebody else should tell her story.”
The 42-year-old Marvel movie star previously defended her casting in the Nina Simone bio pic, leading to a vicious war of words between herself and Simone’s estate.
“Let me tell you, if Elizabeth Taylor can be Cleopatra, I can be Nina – I’m sorry,” Saldana told Latina magazine in 2013. “It doesn’t matter how much backlash I will get for it. I will honor and respect my black community because that’s who I am.”
However, Simone’s estate described her stance at the time of the film’s release as “nauseating.”
“Please take Nina’s name out of your mouth,” the estate tweeted at the time. “For the rest of your life. Hopefully, people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing.”
Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing. It shall pass, but for now…
— Nina Simone (@NinaSimoneMusic) March 3, 2016
Saldana has now promised that she will learn from the experience.
“I know better today, and I’m never going to do that again,” she said. “Never. I’m learning. I’m still processing it. I’ve been processing it for 10 years, and I think it’s a conversation that I wanna have. I’m not gonna allow people to violate me, to make me feel less than. But I am going to be open to this conversation, so we can grow from it, and we can give back to ourselves and to each other our identity. For fuck’s sake, it’s about time.”