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Zoe Saldana apologizes for taking on the role of Nina Simone

The actress says the music icon “deserved better.”

August 05, 2020
Zoe Saldana apologizes for taking on the role of Nina Simone Photo: Frazer Harrison/David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images.  

Actress Zoe Saldana has apologized for taking on the role of late music icon Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic Nina. For the film, Saldana wore skin-darkening makeup, a prosthetic nose, and fake teeth in order to play the singer, a move largely panned by fans, critics, and Simone's family.

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“I should have never played Nina. The leverage that I had 10 years ago [was] a different leverage but it was leverage nonetheless," she told Pose creator Steve Canals in an interview with Bese around the 41-minute mark. "I should have done everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman.”

Saldana faced criticism for taking on the role, including from Simone's daughter Simone Kelly. "[My mother] was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark," Kelly told the New York Times in 2012 when the casting was announced. "Appearance-wise this is not the best choice.” Songs like "Four Women" are important markers of how Simone's artistry and journey through the music industry were inextricably linked to her appearance and to larger conversations about colorism.

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Despite previously doubling down on her role, telling Allure Magazine there was "no one way to be Black" in 2016, Saldana now says the music icon "deserved better."

“I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman,” Saldana said. “And I am. But it was Nina Simone. And Nina had a life and a journey that should be honored to the most specific detail.”

Watch the full interview below.

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Zoe Saldana apologizes for taking on the role of Nina Simone