Even with all the controversy over Zoe Saldana starring, the show apparently must go on, and thus the first trailer for the Nina Simone biopic Nina is here to stir things up again. Oh what's that? You don't remember specifically what it was that got everyone so riled up? That's totally understandable, because this conversation first started almost two years ago, and there's only so much information that your brain can hold onto at one time. So, let me refresh your memory, so that we can all go to a cocktail party later and speak about it intelligently in front of our friends, shall I? Full disclosure, people have multiple issues with this movie, and we'll get to all of them. Bustle has reached out to writer-director Cynthia Mort and actress Zoe Saldana, but did not hear back at the time of publication.
The catalyst for the whole dialogue was the casting of Zoe Saldana, a light-skinned actress with narrow features, to portray Nina Simone, a darker-skinned woman with wide features. It's in no way an attack on Saldana or her talent, but seeing her in the trailer with her skin noticeably darkened and wearing a prosthetic nose, it's easy to remember why people were and are so indignant. Not only are the industry opportunities for darker-skinned actresses even fewer and farther between than they are for people of color in general, but Simone's appearance played a huge role in her image of herself and what she had to push up against in order to get any traction in the world.
Simone was repeatedly told that she was "too black" and her nose was "too wide" for mass market appeal, so to erase those features in the casting is to perpetuate the same injustices against the artist after her death that she endured during life. The way Simone looked and was viewed by society informed her art in ways that can't be layered in with just a few hours in the makeup chair. At the end of the day, it's just an added obstacle. Is a conversation about whether it's still blackface if the woman using it is already African-American adding anything to Nina Simone's story or her legacy? Nope.
But now that we're talking about it, another issue is that this biopic hasn't actually been endorsed, or even authorized, by Simone's estate. Nina Simone's daughter has refused to sign off on the feature, which makes sense, as some glaring inconsistencies have already been pointed out. (Yup, before the movie is out.) Chief among these faults is the fact that David Oyelowo's character, Simone's personal assistant Clifton Henderson, is also portrayed as her lover. Which is an interesting idea for a plot device, except that it never actually happened. In fact, Henderson was gay, and the only relationship between the two was a business one, not the starry-eyed love story that the biopic has promised. It's all a real bummer, because the trailer is actually very good.
But no matter how talented its performers and how well-intentioned its creators, Nina already has a lot working against it, and it isn't even out in theaters. However, at least now you're caught up on why it's problematic, and it's always good to stay informed. Check out the trailer below.
Image: RLJ Entertainment