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'Nina' Distributor Robert L. Johnson Defends Casting Choice of Zoe Saldana in Biopic

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Mar 17, 2016 06:10 PM EDT
'Nina' Distributor Robert L. Johnson Defends Casting Choice of Zoe Saldana in Biopic In this composite image a comparison has been made between Nina Simone (L) and actress Zoe Saldana. Zoe Saldana will reportedly play Nina Simone in a film biopic by writer and director Cynthia Mort and executive producer Jimmy Lovine. ***LEFT IMAGE*** 19th July 1978: American jazz singer Nina Simone (1933 - 2003). (Photo by John Minihan/Evening Standard/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 04: Actress Zoe Saldana attends the Premiere Of CBS Films' 'The Words' at the ArcLight Cinemas on September 4, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo : Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

In continuing with the controversy surrounding Zoe Saldana portraying legendary jazz singer Nina Simone, the film's distributor Robert L. Johnson responded to the outcry. In an interview, Johnson says the backlash is nostalgic of the American slave era.

If you aren't in the know, the new biopic Nina, which features Ms. Saldana in prosthetics and makeup to alter her skin tone, has come under fire. Many cite that Ms. Simone's physical appearance was a direct correlation to her being received as a noteworthy jazz musician.

However, Johnson feels that the controversy is ill-mannered and seemingly arbitrary. He said in an interview:

"It's unfortunate that African-Americans are talking about this in a way that hearkens back to how we were treated when we were slaves. The slave masters separated light-skinned blacks from dark-skinned blacks, and some of that social DNA still exists today among many black people."

While this may be a passion project for Johnson, many who have seen the trailer feel that Saldana, who is light-skinned and of Afro-Latina descent, was a poor choice for casting.

The decision has reverberated so much that even the estate of Nina Simone posted a scathing comment to Ms. Saldana on Twitter. In the tweet, a family friend of Simone's posted a statement beseeching the actress to keep Ms. Simone's name "out her mouth."

With Saldana backed into a corner, it should be a sigh of relief that her camp has backed the decision for her to portray Ms. Simone. Of course the character of Nina Simone is directly rooted in how she was perceived a black songstress during a time when the racial climate in the nation was at one of its most intense.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out the trailer below and be sure to keep yourself abreast of the Nina drama for the time being.

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TagsZoe Saldana, Nina Simone, Robert L. Johnson

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