'Nina' director finally explains why Zoe Saldana was cast

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Director Cynthia Mort‘s biopic “Nina” has been dragged every way possible and it hasn’t even hit theaters.  What started as a dream to honor Mort’s musical idol Nina Simone turned into a PR nightmare after she cast Zoe Saldana in the lead role.

Mort, who actually met Nina Simone once before, explained her choice in a new in-depth interview with Buzzfeed, calling it a “creative decision,” though she acknowledged the role that finances played in the decision as well.

“Certainly I would not have cast Zoe if I felt she was wrong for the role in a million years. Zoe’s amazing. She’s amazing in the movie,” Mort said. “She gave her all. She’s honest, she’s courageous, she’s fierce.”

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She then added, “However, long before I met Zoe, there were other people considered who were not acceptable to financiers.”

Mort says in order to get funding the movie needed a star power boost and that Hollywood diversity is lacking.  “Go to those people,” Mort said about financiers and studio executives. “Take a look at their lists. And find out how many black actresses are on their lists. Or how many women of a certain age are on those lists. Or how many women who look a certain way are on their lists. It’s really informative.”

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Mort describes herself as a “radical feminist” who was angered by the extreme backlash over race in casting.  “It pisses me off on that level,” Mort continued. “As a creative person, is it important? Yes. But also what’s important is to find a way to tell the truth in a narrative film. It’s not a documentary. You can go online and see 225 videos of Nina Simone, and everybody should. But that’s not what this is.”

In explaining why Saldana’s skin and face was altered to play the role, Mort said it was no different than other movies. “… Just as Nicole Kidman put on Virginia Woolf’s nose, or Leo did his J. Edgar Hoover makeup.” She continued: “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.”

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However Barnaby Thompson, a “Nina” producer has been adamant that the decision was not as dictated by finances as people seemed to think.

“There is a narrative that seems to be running in some of the coverage of the film, which is suggesting that we were making decisions driven by commercial reasons. And I think it should be very clear that this is a low-budget indie movie. The budget was just over $7 million,” Thompson said.

Mort disagrees with Barnaby and had such a falling out with the production company over creative differences, that at one point she didn’t want her name on the film  Looking back she says the business of it all kept her from having as much power as she wanted in the process.

“…Right now, the movie business is concerned with one color, and that’s green.”