"She deserved better."

By Christopher Luu
Aug 05, 2020 @ 5:30 pm

Back in 2016, Zoë Saldana faced criticism over her portrayal of Nina Simone in the biopic Nina. For the role, Saldana, who is Afro-Latina, darkened her skin and used a prosthetic nose. According to Vulture, Saldana apologized for taking the role during a conversation with Pose's executive producer Steven Canals. The two connected for an Instagram Live session on the account for Bese, a platform that Saldana founded that focuses on "identity and culture."

Canals addressed the role, asking Saldana to reflect on taking the role of Nina Simone (real name Eunice Kathleen Waymon), even mentioning the skin-darkening and prosthetics. Saldana was apologetic, saying that she never should have taken the role and that she sees Simone as an "exceptionally perfect Black woman." She acknowledged the fact that a Black woman should have taken the role and that she's growing from the decision and that a decade ago, she justified it because she identifies as a Black woman. Now, she says that every detail of Simone's life should have been "honored," which includes casting a Black woman to play her.

Credit: Tibrina Hobson / Stringer

"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 nonetheless, I should have tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman. It's growing. It's painful. 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 specific detail. Because she was a specifically detailed individual. About her voice, her views, her music, her opinions, and her art. And she was so honest. So she deserved better," Saldana said. "And with that said, so I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, because I love her music. She's one of our giants. Somebody else should step up. Somebody else should tell her story because she's one of those people that [...] Nina Simone! Her story hasn't been, like, a global fucking impact. When we're taking her music and we're using it in car commercials, or I'm taking her story and her image and I think that I'm okay to tell it, we've been appropriating ourselves with someone like Nina Simone for a very long time. And I just want her story to be told, and I want it to be right, because she deserves it. And America deserves it. Because the Americans that inhabit today's America deserve her story to be told. And I know better today, and I'm never going to do that again. Never. I'm learning. I'm still processing it. I've been processing it for 10 years, and I think it's a conversation that I wanna have. I'm not gonna allow people to violate me, to make me feel less than. But I am going to be open to this conversation, so we can grow from it, and we can give back to ourselves and to each other our identity. For fuck's sake, it's about time."

After the film's release, Saldana actually defended her decision to portray Simone, telling Allure in 2017 that if she didn't take the role, the film probably wouldn't have been made, because Hollywood simply isn't interested in telling "Black female stories."

"The script probably would still be lying around, going from office to office, agency to agency, and nobody would have done it. Female stories aren't relevant enough, especially a Black female story […] I made a choice," she said. "Do I continue passing on the script and hope that the 'right' Black person will do it, or do I say, 'You know what? Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing in comparison to the fact that this story must be told.'"