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A documentary on the history of Black television is headed to HBO with Issa Rae as one of its executive producers. Seen & Heard, a two-part documentary, will explore the history of Black TV as told by those who created, and starred in groundbreaking series from the past and present, the cable network announced on Wednesday (Aug. 5).
In addition to showcasing archival material, Seen & Heard will offer up cultural commentary on Black representation in storytelling, featuring interviews with writers, showrunners, actors, celebrities and other “notable influencers.”
The participants will reflect on their personal experiences with Black representation on television, and share insights into their current creative ventures, inspiration, and experiences.
Seen & Herd will be executive produced by Rae and Montrel McKay’s Issa Rae Productions along with award-winning teams from 3 Arts Entertainment and Ark Media, including Phil Bertelsen, the latter of whom will direct and produce the film. Bertelsen's credits include the hit Netflix documentary, Who Killed Malcolm X?, Madam President, and The Legacy of Barack Obama.
“Black people have such a rich, but often unacknowledged history in Hollywood," Rae said in a statement. “We have defined American culture and influenced generations time and time again across the globe. I'm honored to pair with Ark Media to center and celebrate the achievements of those who paved a way for so many of us to tell our stories on television.”
Zoe Saldana regrets portraying Nina Simone in the widely panned 2016 biopic, Nina. Reflecting on the film in an recent interview with Pose creator, Steven Canals, Saldana became emotional over her decision to portray the music legend.
At the time, Saldana was subjected to mounds of criticism, all of which she ignored, and forged on with the role. In hindsight, Saldana realizes that she should have used her leverage to give the role to someone else.
“I should have never played Nina. 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 none the less — I should have tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman,” said Saldana.
“It’s painful,” she added. “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 have been and should be honored to the most detail because she was a specifically detailed individual.”
Saldana began to cry as she spoke about Simone and the film, “She deserved better. With that said, I’m so sorry because I love her music.”
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#ZoeSaldana Cries Admitting She Never Should Have Played #NinaSimone: I’m Never Going To Do That Again (Part 2)
The mountain of backlash against the film included a tweet from a verified account dedicated to Simone warning Saldana to “take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.” But Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, defended the portrayal.
“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” she said in 2016. “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.”
Saldana, who is Dominican, darkened her skin and wore a prosthetic nose for the film. Nina, which featured Mike Epps, David Oyelowo, and Ella Thomas, debuted in limited release and on video on demand.
Watch Saldana’s full interview below.
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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
Fresh off the success of The Clark Sisters biopic, Lifetime is preparing to release another film on a famous gospel legend. Danielle Brooks, of Orange is the Knew Black fame, is set to play gospel pioneer, Mahalia Jackson, in an upcoming film executive produced by journalist Robin Roberts, the network announced on Monday (Aug. 3).
The film, Robin Roberts Presents: The Mahalia Jackson Story, will be helmed by Tony Award-winning director, Kenny Leon, whose credits include the Lifetime remake of Steel Magnolias, featuring an all-Black cast. Brooks and Leon previously worked together on the stage production of Much Ado About Nothing.
Brooks starred as “Beatrice” in Much Ado About Nothing, and made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple, the latter of which earned her a Tony nomination.
“Having had the privilege of working with Kenny on 'Steel Magnolias' and Robin Roberts on 'Stolen by my Mother,' I am ecstatic to have them join forces to work together on this special project,” said Tanya Lopez, Lifetime’s EVP of Movies, Limited Series & Original Movie Acquisitions. “Adding Danielle Brooks as Mahalia is icing on the cake. This team is committed in celebrating the legacy of Mahalia and reintroducing her to a world that needs her spirit more than ever.”
A four-time Grammy award winner and Grammy Hall of Fame inductee, Jackson was born in New Orleans in 1911. She began singing at an early age and become one of the most revered gospel artists in history. Her 1947 recording of “Move On Up a Little Higher” sold eight million copies, and it wasn’t the only platinum-selling effort from the music icon. Jackson also broke multiple barriers, including becoming the first gospel act to perform at Carnegie Hall.
In addition to recording more than 30 albums over her career, Jackson was an active participant in the civil rights movement. She performed at the 1963 March on Washington, and hoped that her music would act as catalyst to “break down” racial division.
Jackson died from heart failure and complications brought on by diabetes in 1972 at the age of 60.