Zoe Saldana speaks her mind: ‘I do believe in androgyny’

If Zoe Saldana accepts anything, it won’t be someone else’s opinion of her.

The 34-year-old star of Star Trek Into Darkness came under scrutiny over the past year when it was announced she would portray the legendary Nina Simone in an upcoming big screen biopic. Critics blasted the casting decision, claiming Saldana was not “dark enough” to play the chanteuse nor could she sing, and even Simone’s own daughter seemed to agree.

No worry for Saldana, however, as she counters their criticism with bold candidacy, challenging her detractors to think with greater scope.

“It’s not natural to me to discriminate in any way shape or form,” the actress tells theGrio. “Either discriminate by victimizing myself, or discriminate by being a perpetrator of abuse. I don’t understand it. I wasn’t raised by that.”

Asked if she can acknowledge where those critics are coming from, she answers firmly and adamantly, “Not at all.”

Of this I’m sure

Saldana, an American of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, was born in New Jersey and raised both in the U.S. and Dominican Republic. She says she jumped on the opportunity to play Simone because no one else was “stepping up to the plate,” and describes the Civil Rights activist and singer as a “prophet” whose narrative deserved greater attention.

Mary J. Blige was originally cast in the part, but dropped out due to scheduling issues.

“Her story needs to be told, so if nobody’s going to do it, I’ll do it,” Saldana remarks.

Nevertheless, Saldana’s involvement in the film has drawn consistently negative attention, even provoking some to launch an online petition demanding the producers recast the part and threatening to boycott the project.

When a photo was released last October showing the actress as Simone in a darkened skin tone, further outrage spread.

But little, it seems, stressed Saldana’s stride.

“Well, I’m not made of steel,” Saldana comments. “But I held onto [writer-director] Cynthia Mort. Cynthia Mort being a white woman from Detroit and me being an American woman of Latin descent – the one thing that tied us together was our unconditional love for Nina Simone. So, I can only hope that people remain open enough to watch the movie and make their decision.”

Don’t let me be misunderstood

At the end of the day, Saldana adds, the judgment of cynics doesn’t matter in her book.

In fact, for the A-list talent, skin color has never been a defining factor to her understanding of the world; quite the opposite. Race was removed as a mechanism of evaluation throughout her life, thus, Saldana doesn’t believe in black or white. She feels shades of color do not express a person’s humanity, and she will not be circumscribed by such terminology.

“It’s completely unnatural to me,” she explains. “If I were to ever use words like that in front of my mother, she would not even know what to do…By us always talking about [race], we’re giving a lot of importance to a subject that should not even exist in the first place.”

She adds, “I don’t need to explain the obvious. I am equal to anything and everything that walks, breaths, or f***ing shines on this Earth. And I don’t need to explain myself. Or justify myself. Or announce myself. I just need to be. And that is who I am.”