*After enduring a slew of criticism leveled at Zoe Saldana for being too light-skinned to play Nina Simone in the upcoming biopic “Nina,” the film’s director is revealing her reasons behind the controversial casting.
Reigniting previous comments on Saldana’s “amazingly courageous” performance in “Nina,” Cynthia Mort noted that the actress’ talent as an actress factored into being selected to play Simone
“Certainly I would not have cast Zoe if I felt she was wrong for the role in a million years,” Mort told BuzzFeed in an interview featured in a longer piece on the history of “Nina.” “Zoe’s amazing. She’s amazing in the movie. She gave her all. She’s honest, she’s courageous, she’s fierce.”
Despite comments from “Nina” producer Barnaby Thompson about casting a bankable star to raise funding for the biopic not being a factor in hiring Saldana, Mort countered, saying, “For me, Zoe was a creative decision.”
“However, long before I met Zoe, there were other people considered who were not acceptable to financiers. And for Barnaby to say anything other than that is incorrect.”
Although Saldana was ultimately chosen to play Simone, Mary J. Blige was connected with “Nina.” Overall, Mort’s initial interest in having the hip-hop soul queen portray the title role was upended in light of Blige being “very, very busy” at the time.
“Mary is an incredible woman. She really is,” Mort told BuzzFeed. “She’s very moving, very talented. I spent a lot of time with her. But she was very, very busy.”
As for the critics who have a problem with Saldana wearing “blackface” makeup and a prosthetic nose to play Simone, Mort responded with referencing similar transformations done by Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Leonardo DiCaprio for past roles.
“It’s a narrative film. You help your actor inhabit a character any way that you can,” she said. “Just as Nicole Kidman put on Virginia Woolf’s nose, or Leo did his J. Edgar Hoover makeup. I understand the issue of race. And color is a sensitive issue. But at the same time, it is a movie. And it is an actor. And everyone is doing their best to find the truth in that.”
“Nina” is slated to hit theaters and video on demand platform on Friday (April 22).
Click here for more of Mort’s interview.