Why Zoe Saldana Regrets Playing Nina Simone

Zoe Saldana's 2016 portrayal of civil rights activist and jazz musician Nina Simone in the biopic Nina stirred up national controversy. Critics screamed whitewashing. Saldana's casting seemed to be a symbol of a Hollywood where "dark-skinned black women are not even deemed good enough to play themselves on screen," wrote HuffPost's Zeba Blay in her critique of the casting choice.  

Surprisingly, movie producers spent considerable effort darkening Saldana's skin for the movie (via Deadline). Saldana, who also had to wear a prosthetic nose during the filming, made Nina Simone look "ugly" and "weird," at least according to Grammy-winning soul singer-songwriter, India Arie. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Arie pointed out that Saldana's portrayal was disturbing, precisely because Nina Simone risked her career to vocally celebrate her identity. Simone was part "of a small sorority of women who came from being considered the least valuable human beings in all of America — a dark-skinned black woman from Jim Crow South," said Arie.    

While Saldana initially defended her decision to play Simone, she's now changed her tune (via The Guardian). In a recent interview from BESE, Saldana apologized for her decision and said, "I should have tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman." (via Instagram)

Zoe Saldana's regrets being part of Hollywood's whitewashing

It seems that Saldana has finally listened to critics who, in 2016, openly questioned why Saldana hadn't used her fame to publicly turn down the role and speak out about why she was the wrong choice (via Vox). Saldana's portrayal of Simone — in what India Arie called "black(er) face" — was especially problematic, because it was part of Hollywood's history of denying people of color parts in movies, even when the part being cast is that of a minority. 

You don't have to look hard to search for recent examples of Hollywood's whitewashing: In 2001, Jennifer Connelly won an Oscar for her portrayal of an El Salvadoran, Alicia Nash, in A Beautiful Mind; in 2007, Angelina Jolie played the mixed-race Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart; and, in 2012, Ben Affleck portrayed the Hispanic Tony Mendez in Argo. And the list goes on: In 2013, Johnny Depp portrayed a Native American in The Lone Ranger; and, in 2017, Scarlett Johansson played the Japanese, Motoko Kusanagi, in Ghost in the Shell (via Indie Wire)

Zoe Saldana may have taken four years to apologize for her portrayal of Simone, but the action seems to be a big step in the right direction. As Saldana said in her interview from BESE, Simone "had a journey that should be honored to the most specific detail ... she's one of our giants and someone else ... should tell her story."