Zoe Saldana is lashing back at critics of her appearance in the biopic Nina, saying in an interview with Allure Magazine that “There’s no one way to be black. I’m black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I’m raising black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.”
The film, which recounts the life of legendary musical polymath Nina Simone, was the subject of intense controversy even before it received a critical drubbing upon its limited release back in April. At the center of said controversy was that the Guardians of the Galaxy & Avatar actress would play the songstress. Central to the criticism wasn’t how Saldana acts, but how she looks: the casting of Saldana, who does not resemble the late singer who died in 2003, was blasted by Simone’s daughter Simone Kelly, who said “my mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise this is not the best choice.”
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Adding to the controversy, Saldana wore a prosthetic nose and makeup to darken her skin for the film, which only intensified critics who used it as an example of certain racial and aesthetic biases among Hollywood productions. Saldana has largely remained quiet about the uproar, but in the new interview she responded to critics in stark terms. “I never saw her as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family! But if you think the [prosthetic] nose I wore was unattractive,” Saldana said about that decision, “then maybe you need to ask yourself, ‘What do you consider beautiful? Do you consider a thinner nose beautiful, so the wider you get, the more insulted you become?’”
Saldana also noted the difficulty in getting the film made, insisting that she took the part because she wanted to tell the story. “The script probably would still be lying around, going from office to office, agency to agency, and nobody would have done it,” she said. “Female stories aren’t relevant enough, especially a black female story. I made a choice. Do I continue passing on the script and hope that the ‘right’ black person will do it, or do I say, ‘You know what? Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing in comparison to the fact that this story must be told.’”
She also stated her belief that Simone’s legacy and exposure was expanded by the film, and even by the controversy, and said she believes Simone’s impact and importance is about more than race. “The fact that we’re talking about her, that Nina Simone is trending? We [f**king] won. For so many years, nobody knew who the [f**k] she was,” Saldana said. “She is essential to our American history. As a woman first, and only then as everything else.”
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