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    Updated on Aug 10, 2020. Posted on Aug 9, 2020

    Zoe Saldana Said She's "So Sorry" For Playing Nina Simone And That She's "Never Gonna Do That Again"

    The actor wore dark-skinned makeup and a nose prosthetic to portray the High Priestess of Soul.

    The recent BLM movement has reignited much-needed conversations about how systemic racism has impacted the entertainment industry, with many stars taking a closer look at the roles they've played, both literally and figuratively.


    Today that star is Zoe Saldana.

    Zoe Saldana smiling on a red carpet
    Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

    Let's start from the beginning: In 2016, Zoe starred as Nina Simone in the biopic Nina.

    View this video on YouTube

    The film, which also features Golden Globe–nominated actor David Oyelowo, centers on the latter part of the singer's life as she struggled with alcoholism, bipolar disorder, and a breast cancer diagnosis. After enlisting the help of her assistant Clifton Henderson, she works to overcome her difficulties and reconnect with her music and her fans.

    Before the movie was even released, Zoe's portrayal was heavily criticized, and she received backlash from both fans and Nina's family. There was even a petition to have her recast.

    .@zoesaldana Cool story but please take Nina's name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.

    Furthermore, Nina's daughter stated that the movie was unauthorized and that no one from the estate had been asked permission or been asked to be involved in any way. "My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise, this is not the best choice," she said regarding Zoe's casting.

    Instead of casting someone who more closely resembled Nina, The Guardians of the Galaxy actor — who is Afro-Latina — donned skin-darkening makeup and a prosthetic nose to play the High Priestess of Soul.

    Black and white photo of Nina Simone smirking at a camera in 1960s next to a photo of Zoe Saldana smiling on a red carpet
    John Minihan / Getty Images

    Mary J. Blige was reportedly intended for the role and even said she'd prepared for years, but the deal fell apart because of scheduling. And according to Nina's daughter, the soulful singer had always wanted Whoopi Goldberg to portray her.

    This was particularly problematic because Nina's Blackness was heavily tied to her music, as heard in "Young, Gifted and Black," "Mississippi Goddam," and "Four Women," the latter a song about color consciousness.

    Black and white photograph of Nina Simone posing on a floor
    Getty Images

    Furthermore, Nina was a prominent civil rights activist, and Zoe, at one point, was openly apolitical.

    At the height of the backlash in 2016, Zoe told Allure that she didn't regret taking the role, despite "whatever consequences" may come.

    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. 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."

    Which brings us to earlier this week, when the 42-year-old made an impassioned and tearful apology for portraying Nina.

    "I should've never played Nina," she told Pose co-creator Steven Canals. "I should've 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've tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman."

    Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in "Nina" looking sad
    RLJ Entertainment

    She continued: "I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman. And I am. But it was Nina Simone. And Nina had a life, and she had a journey, that should've been, and should be, honored to the most specific detail because she was a specifically detailed individual — about her voice, and her opinions, and her views, her music, and her art. And she was so honest, so she deserved better."

    Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in "Nina" playing the piano and singing
    RLJ Entertainment

    Zoe added, "But with that said, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. [with

    Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in "Nina" staring into the distance
    RLJ Entertainment

    "Because I love her music. She's one of our giants. Somebody else should step up, somebody else should tell her story because she's one of those people that...I'm besotted [with]. Nina Simone, her story, has been a global fucking impact. When we're taking her music and using it in car commercials, or I'm taking her image and her story, and think that I'm okay to tell it, we've been appropriating ourselves and someone like Nina Simone for a very long time."

    She concluded, "I want her story to be told, and I want it to be right, because she deserves it. I know better today and I'm never gonna do that again. Never."

    Nina Simone performs on a television show at BBC Television Centre in London in 1966
    David Redfern / Redferns

    Nina's estate has liked and retweeted Zoe's apology.

    For more on the Nina controversy and the legacy of Nina Simone, go here.

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