Simone was a dark skinned woman with broad features, who was a champion of embracing her African-American features. Saldana is light skinned, with Puerto Rican and Dominican heritage.
In an interview with HipHollywood at a pre-Oscar party, Saldana she said, “I guess what kept me from being hurt by the negative comments was that I’m doing it for my sistas and my brothas and I don’t care who tells me I’m not this or I’m not that, I know who I am and I know what Nina Simone means to me.”
“I did it all out of love for my people and my pride of being a black woman and a Latina woman and an American woman and that’s my truth,” Saldana added.
Some have criticized the fact that Saldana is not a singer, while others take issue with the actress not being “dark-skinned enough” and say she does not bear any resemblance to the legendary soul singer.
A petition has even been started on Change.org asking the filmmakers to replace “Zoe Saldana with an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone.” So far, there are more than 10,000 signatures.
Fans have argued that a host of suitable African-American actresses would have been a better fit; including the likes of Kimberly Elise, Viola Davis, India Arie or Adepero Oduye, to name a few.
The backlash intensified when images of Saldana transformed to resemble Simone surfaced online. She was wearing a prosthetic nose and dark make-up and an Afro-style wig.
Singer-songwriter India.Arie said at the time, “So today I saw the images of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone…AND I THINK THEY ARE RIDICULOUS,” in a caps-riddled post on Simone’s official website.
“Yes there should be a movie made, and YES they should have chosen someone who LOOKS like Nina Simone, ESPECIALLY since her RACE played such a PIVOTAL role in WHO, WHAT and WHY, she was.”
Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, said in an interview with Ebony.com that although she respected Saldana’s craft “I also know that there are many actresses out there, known or not, who would be great as my mother.”
She said her preferences would be Kimberly Elise or Viola Davis. “Both of the actresses that I’ve mentioned are women of color, are women with beautiful, luscious lips and wide noses, and who know their craft.”
Still, others have come forward to back Zoe in the part, such as singer and actress Jill Scott, who told Hello Beautiful “Zoe is an incredible actress–I think that she’s a fine actress.”
The unauthorized biopic of Nina Simone, entitled Nina, is scheduled to be released in theaters later this year.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti