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Nina Simone’s Estate Calls Out Zoe Saldana, Film Distributors Respond

Ian Showell / Jason Merritt, Getty Images
Ian Showell / Jason Merritt, Getty Images

It’s been two years since the unauthorized Nina Simone biopic Nina debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, but the movie will get a wide theatrical release next month. Still, the controversy surrounding the film lives on, as Simone’s family has made it abundantly clear they don’t support the project.

Simone’s estate fired back at a tweet posted by actress Zoe Saldana, who’s portraying Simone in the film, where she quoted the late singer. They wrote, “Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”

Hours later, Robert L. Johnson — the founder of RLJ Entertainment, the company currently in possession of the distribution rights to Nina — released a statement praising Saldana’s portrayal of the late icon.

“Zoe Saldana delivers an exceptional and mesmerizing tribute to Nina Simone,” the statement reads, courtesy of Billboard. “She gave her heart and soul to the role and displayed her extraordinary talent. The most important thing is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on the basis of color, or ethnicity, or physical likeness. Quality entertainment should be measured by the sheer force of creativity and the commitment that an actor or actress brings to the performance.”

Saldana’s casting was met with its fair share of controversy. Critics feel Saldana bears little resemblance to Simone — a claim substantiated by on-set photos that show Saldana with darkened skin and a nose prosthetic — and say hiring Saldana for the role erases Simone’s immense cultural impact as a dark-skinned black woman.

“My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark,” said Simone’s daughter Simone Kelly via The New York Times. “Appearance-wise this is not the best choice.”

Aaron Overfield, the content manager for Nina Simone’s official website, also broached the topic of the unauthorized movie in a lengthy Facebook post on Simone’s official page.

“Given the history of Nina Simone: her pride in being a dark skinned woman with her features while lamenting treatment based on skin tone (give ‘Four Women’ a listen), plus her desire to inspire younger women with similar features – why was Zoe ever approached in the first place?”

Saldana has yet to respond to the estate’s tweet. Nina, meanwhile, is set for an April 22 release.

Next: Watch Lauryn Hill Cover 'Feeling Good'

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