After years of criticism regarding her decision to play Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic about her life, Zoe Saldana is opening up about her regrets playing the iconic musician and activist.
In a new Instagram Live interview for Saldana’s Latino empowerment platform Bese, the actress (who identifies as Afro-Latina) discussed the topic of colorism with Pose creator and executive producer Steven Canals. Around the 41-minute mark of the nearly hourlong chat, Saldana says that she “should have never played” the “Lilac Wine” singer and that her legacy “deserves better.”
“I wonder: what is your relationship with that choice now?” Canals asked. “How has the process of evolution for you and loving yourself changed how you reflect on that decision?”
Saldana says that given the “leverage” she had in the industry, she should have done “everything in [her] power” to cast a darker-skinned Black woman to portray Ms. Simone, whom she praises for being “an exceptionally perfect Black woman.”
“That’s growing, and it’s painful,” she explains. “I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman, and I am...but it was Nina Simone, and she had a life, and she had a journey, and it should be honored to the most specific detail.”
“I’m so sorry, because I loved her music,” Saldana continues to say through tears. “That said, she’s one of our giants. Somebody else should step up, somebody else should tell her story.” She goes on to say that America has a history of “appropriating ourselves” and that she knows better today than to accept the offer of a role filled with so much weight and importance. She also says she is open to having further conversations about reclaiming identity in the future.
Many were outraged with the decision to cast Saldana as Simone. The icon’s daughter Kelly Simone told The New York Times in 2012 that the choice to cast Saldana was “not the best choice” due to her appearance. Saldana used skin-darkening and aging makeup, a prosthetic nose and false teeth to portray Simone during the film.
The Guardians of the Galaxy actress initially turned down the role because she thought her age was not suitable for the time period the film would be portraying. She also went back and forth with the idea of giving up the role to a more suitable Black actress, however, she wanted Simone’s story to be told one way or another.
“This project has been pitched at every studio. It has been offered to a number of excellent, amazing actresses that, for whatever valid reasons of their own, decided to pass on the project,” she said during a post-screening conversation for the film in 2016. “‘Do I sit on the side...and just pass this project from my hands...Or do I make the decision to be a part of the telling of the story of an iconic figure in American history that happens to be a woman, that happens to be black?’ So I guess the good outweighed the fear and the bad.”
Saldana also hit back at her critics during the time for trying to define her Blackness, stating “There’s no one way to be Black. I’m Black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am Black. I’m raising Black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.”
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