This apology has been a long time coming.
Zoe Saldana has faced criticism for her choice to play Nina Simone since she was first cast in the role, back in 2012. The film wasn’t released until 2016, and although she had her defenders, even Simone’s estate had harshly condemned the casting.
The Guardians of the Galaxy star is Afro-Latinx, and she wore dark makeup and prosthetics to play the much darker singing legend, something many considered racially insensitive.
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On Monday, Zoe chatted with Pose executive producer Steven Canals during an Instagram Live for her media platform Bese. In a wide-ranging conversation that covered many topics around race and identity, Canals asked Saldana how she felt about that choice today.
The 42-year-old confessed:
“I should have never played Nina. I should have done everything in my power, with the leverage that I had ten 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. And with that said, so I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, because I love her music.”
Wiping away tears, she continued:
“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 f**king 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.”
This point echoes some of the actress’ comments back in 2016, when she claimed the script for the film would “still be lying around” some office in Hollywood if she hadn’t done the film. Of course, her tone was a lot more defensive back then, and it now seems like she understands the criticism she faced over the role.
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She concluded, emotionally:
“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 ten 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 f**k’s sake, it’s about time.”
Good for Zoe for owning up and finally coming to terms with the harm her actions caused. We hope Nina does get the biopic she deserves some day soon. Maybe with an unknown who is just perfect for it? Could be a star-making performance…
Ch-ch-check out Saldana and Canals’s full conversation (below):
[Image via RLJ Entertainment/Hulu & Netflix & WENN/Avalon.]