Titled Nina, the film received backlash for its casting of Zoe Saldana, who’ll play the iconic artist/activist. The main reason for opposition to the movie stemmed from the physical appearance of the Avatar actress failing to match that of the late singer. Saldana later responded in an interview with InStyle Magazine, stating, “I didn’t think I was right for the part, and I know a lot of people will agree, but then again, I don’t think Elizabeth Taylor was right for Cleopatra either.”
In addition, Saldana also revealed, “It’s more complex than just ‘Oh, you chose the Halle Berry look-alike to play a dark, strikingly beautiful, iconic black woman.’ The truth is, they chose an artist who was willing to sacrifice herself. We needed to tell her story because she deserves it.” Written and directed by Cynthia Mort, Nina also stars David Oyewolo as the “Feeling Good” vocalist’s assistant, Clifton Henderson.
Earlier this year, Netflix released their own documentary on Simone, with the assistance of her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, who was also outspoken against the forthcoming biopic. “I love her as an actress. Truly, I do, but not all people are meant to play certain parts. The energy and the name behind this project is Cynthia Mort,” she said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “She’s the writer, she’s the director, she’s the one who came up with the concept. And she’s the one who set this whole thing in motion. And it has been full of non-truth since its inception. And the addition of Zoe Saldana to the casting — for me — was only a further example of how much this project really just veered away from what the truth was.”
In a phone conversation with the Los Angeles Times, director Mort said despite the controversy surrounding Saldana’s appearance in the film, “she’s committed and she’s amazing. I understood that reaction [to the casting], but … Nina was much more than that and lived beyond those definitions.”