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BET Founder Robert Johnson Defends Zoe Saldana Casting In 'Nina'

Johnson's company RLJ Entertainment is distributing the film. 

The studio behind the Nina Simone biopic has released a statement defending the decision to cast Zoe Saldana as the iconic entertainer, despite the major backlash over her appearance in the film's trailer.

According to Indiewire, RLJ Entertainment Chairman and founder Robert Johnson said the actress should be judged by her work in the film, not her look.

On Wednesday, (March 2) the trailer to Nina was released with the Afro-Latina actress in darker makeup and prosthetic nose. The debate about the film's casting has boiled for years after the Simone estate essentially shamed the casting of Saldana as the worldly entertainer. Johnson, who is also the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), added "The most important thing is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on the basis of color, or ethnicity, or physical likeness. Quality entertainment should be measured by the sheer force of creativity and the commitment that an actor or actress brings to the performance."

Saldana attempted to calm the backlash this week with a quote by Nina herself on Twitter. The move didn't work as the estate for the singer responded in a not-so-friendly way.

Time will only predict the critical reception of the film. So far, there have been three biopics on Black icons presented this year. The Jesse Ownes film Race is currently in theaters, Nate Parker's The Birth of A Nation on Nat Turner will be released October 7 and Nina will land in theaters April 22.

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Keke Palmer To Host 2020 MTV VMAs, Joins ‘Proud Family’ Reboot

Booked and busy! Keke Palmer will be hosting this year’s MTV VMAs, she announced on Thursday (Aug. 6). The 26-year-old actress made the big reveal with a creative throwback to her character True Jackson.

“I heard y’all was tired of 2020, let’s go back to 2008,” Palmer captioned a video conversation featuring a split screen of herself in character as Jackson.

I heard y’all was tired of 2020, let’s go back to 2008 😩🤪🤩. Join me as I host the 2020 @vmas on August 30th on @MTV! #VMAs pic.twitter.com/cl5TcUrxnm

— Keke Palmer (@KekePalmer) August 6, 2020

Also on Thursday, Disney announced that Palmer has joined the cast of the forthcoming reboot of The Proud Family. Palmer will voice a new character named Maya Leibowitz-Jenkins. “Dreams do come true,” she happily tweeted.

The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder is slated to debut on Disney+ sometime soon. Show creator/executive producer, Bruce W. Smith and executive producer, Ralph Farquhar, are back on board, as well as original cast members, Kyla Pratt, Tommy Davidson, Paula Jai Parker, and Jo Marie Payton.

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ DREAMS COME TRUE! https://t.co/vgwmibrurS

— Keke Palmer (@KekePalmer) August 6, 2020

As for the 2020 VMAs, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande top the nominees' list with nine nominations, followed by The Weeknd and Billie Eilish with eight nods each.

The show airs from Brookyln's Barclay's Center on Sunday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

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Issa Rae To Produce HBO Documentary Exploring History Of Black Television

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.”

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Zoe Saldana Says She Regrets Starring In Nina Simone Biopic

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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#NinaSimone #ZoeSaldana

A post shared by the Jasmine BRAND (@thejasminebrand) on Aug 4, 2020 at 1:21pm PDT

 

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#ZoeSaldana Cries Admitting She Never Should Have Played #NinaSimone: I’m Never Going To Do That Again (Part 2)

A post shared by the Jasmine BRAND (@thejasminebrand) on Aug 4, 2020 at 1:26pm PDT

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

A post shared by BESE (@bese) on Aug 3, 2020 at 6:54pm PDT

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