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Fan Cast Favorite India.Arie Speaks Bluntly About Zoe Saldana's Nina Simone Film

by Tambay A. Obenson
November 7, 2012 11:06 AM
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Let me preface this by saying that we certainly aren't trying to beat this thing to death (we've intentionally skipped a lot of the news related to the project, since it was announced, opting to post only those items that reveal more info about it); but I thought this was worth sharing, if only because India.Arie is one of 3 names (the others being Adepero Oduye and Viola Davis) that have been mentioned quite a lot, here and all over the web, in discussious about who should have played Nina Simone, over Zoe Saldana.

And after being asked about starring in a Nina Simone movie for, as she says, years, Arie finally speaks on the project, and, of course, Zoe Saldana's casting. 

In reading her words, I was actually surprised at just how fiery and blunt she is, which you can read below in full (she posted it at by the way):


People have been asking me for weeks, months, years about a Nina Simone movie, when I heard about Zoe Saldana being cast I reserved judgement, you NEVER know what People are MEANT to do.

SO TODAY I saw the images of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone…


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.

THAT ASIDE for a second, this just looks WEIRD, it looks like a person in Black(er) face with a fake nose … REALLY?!!!!


If they were going to pick a person who looks NOTHING like Nina Simone … why not her daughter Simone *shrug* just saying …

As hard as Nina had to fight for what she wanted BECAUSE she was black and looked the way she did … THIS looks like a parody. If it has to be FORCED this hard something’s not right!

I am VERY opinionated about music, I can dissect VOCALS ALL DAY, I don’t KNOW ACTING LIKE THAT! But I trust that through her obvious admiration of Nina, that Zoe Saldana can pull off the portrayal ENERGETICALLY …

But these images … just make me feel … SAD. Not because I want to play Nina Simone but because IT FEELS OUT OF PLACE WITH WHAT NINA SIMONE MEANS IN AN AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORICAL CONTEXT!!!! (yes I yelled just now – I am emotional about OTHER things today, and I’m riding the wave of that, but this IS WHAT I FEEL…)

I have always been OPEN to playing Nina, but I never saw its as my RIGHT! I am clearly Nina Simone’s Physical Heir Apparent, THAT doesn’t mean I SHOULD play her, its been tossed around A LOT, for a LONG TIME. I back down because I feel her legacy deserves better than a FIRST TIME MOVIE ACTRESS, I’m like that about my heroes. If I ever FELT I was truly CALLED to play her, I would. And maybe Zoe Saldana REALLY is BEING CALLED SPIRITUALLY TO PLAY THIS ROLE …


SEEING Nina Simone changed my life, when I was 17 My cousin and I tried to call her … Whole NOTHER story ….

I will END this by saying I think VIOLA DAVIS should be playing Nina Simone.

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  • shabazz | November 30, 2012 8:57 PMReply

    in this sick....evil......stolen land.......................the THIEVERY it was said about the Great pyramids and burial grounds of the PHARAOHS in ALKEBULAN.......the desecration of the wondeful NINA SIMONE.....her life's catalogue of work...............through this vile movie.............will bring the judgement of the ancestors. She has already spoken through her music and this insignificant actress cannot take from Nina SIMONE.............ase ase

  • Chase | November 15, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    * WANT PEOPLE TO FORGET * IF America NEEDS a young mixed child to represent the roots THEY forgot the roots. Stand for something matter of fact wake up

  • Chase | November 15, 2012 2:02 PMReply

    People wld watch it would just have to be more forced or show scenes. It would bring power and unity in ones culture back. Other cultures share unity within eachother. America only hate AFRICAN AM together. Basically by these comments yall wabt people to forget or are you not hereto speak truth..

  • MK | November 10, 2012 11:46 PMReply

    I am a black person that works in media and have done so for 25 years. I often read the commentaries on articles such as this, and wonder if people realize that movies are a business. They are created to make money by people who are more like bankers and accountants than artisans.
    These producers are making a movie that they obviously want a lot of people to go and see. The movie, "Guess who" grossed $101 mil. "Star Trek" grossed $257 mil. "Avatar" $2 bil. These are all movies that Zoe Saldana had a prominent role in; she is therefore considered a huge selling point when it comes to raising finance, and potentially sparking interest in a global audience. This is why actors such as Zoe get roles in commercial movies. I think the fact that she has managed to leverage herself to such a position means that she has obviously surrounded herself with the right team, and is a "woman with a plan". This is how Angelina Jolie or Halle Berry played their hand to be a box office star.
    "Pretty" actresses must also fight off the "she is too pretty to act" label, so it has become quite common for them to wear prosthetics for roles, as Charlize Theron did in "Monster", or Nichole Kidman in the "Hours", for which they both won Oscars. It is simply a strategy, and a way for people to see them in a different light, in the business we call Hollywood.

    It would be so much more useful to understand the mechanics of the industry in order to change them. This is why i admire Tyler Perry, even though i dislike his films. He has not sort validation for the type of stories that he makes, he has created or discovered his own niche

    It is always so disheartening to hear black people tear each other down as opposed to celebrate their achievements. If anyone feels passionately about the Nina Simone story and feels that Hollywood does not get it and they can do better, why not go and make a film that reflects your love for that artist as opposed to always complaining about how "the man" is always doing "x", "y" or "z". This is what empowered and transformative living would look like.
    Every phone now has a video camera; video cameras are getting less expensive and there are multiple platforms on the internet to distribute content, so we don't have to compete on the same arena. The barriers to entry in the business are so much lower now than 10 years ago. We have seen phenomenal successes with projects such as Blair Witch. India and Nigeria have thriving film industries that compete with Hollywood; so why could this not happen in the same way with our community.
    Please let us be the change we seek...and act on our words. I find this much more empowering, than the act of complaining, which can be such a passive and deflating state of mind.

  • Lisa W | November 13, 2012 10:07 PM

    @MK: Thanks for this. When I first heard Zoe was playing Nina Simone, my first reaction was "They're doing a film about Nina Simone! That's awesome that they got Zoe (and that Zoe won that role). My feeling was that Zoe would bring with her an audience that wouldn't normally know who Nina Simone was and that her story would be told. I do get the disappointment that someone that doesn't look more like NS isn't playing her, but the reality is, as you stated, that no one else would get the dough. Viola Davis would be perfect but not only is she probably too old for the script (I'm guessing), but she doesn't have a history of popcorn big openings like ZS. I think that we can, at any point, remake the movie later to serve creative needs, but right now, I'm glad that ZS has risen to the level that a film like this can see the inside of a theater and possibly be a big draw--something that very very VERY few actresses of color have been able to achieve.

  • Charles Judson | November 11, 2012 10:01 AM

    By the by, let me circle back to Kerry Washington. I'm curious to see what SCANDAL and DJANGO UNCHAINED can and will do for her internationally. LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and FANTASTIC FOUR are lifetimes ago. If SCANDAL travels and does well overseas, it can start to widen things for her. What this discussion highlights is that there are few actresses of colors that have built up a body of work that gives them the cache needed to keep moving up and not see their careers stall. That's starting to slowly change. But, when it's difficult to even be considered a draw in North America, it's a long road to being seen as a draw internationally.

  • Charles Judson | November 11, 2012 9:53 AM

    Let's be real Sergio. Isn't that the same complaint 50 to 70% of this board makes when it comes to White casting and careers? That anyone could do what Channing Tatum, as an example, does? That he's interchangeable? Can we really have it both ways? Or, are we being consistent in our critiques and applying that skepticism for what appears to be uninspired, business driven casting across the board? Even as tainted as that process can be, if Zoe's career is not allowed to progress because we collectively don't agree with how it's progressing, is that really a good thing? Or, is that a sign that this not just about Zoe, but it's about a wider commitment to something purer in our filmmaking? If we're willing to bravely say we won't cast with the same mindset, it will be about the craft and finding the perfect fit, then let's do it. But, let's not downplay how much that means we're going to have figure out workarounds for financing and distribution, two areas that intertwined and influence each other from greenlight to production to actual release. As to middling B.O., I made this point months ago, COLOMBIANA did incredibly well in lots of territories around the world and was able to pick up tons of individual distributors worldwide. In some territories it did just as well, if not better than other films Zoe was in like TAKERS and did twice the business of THE LOSERS (even with Idris Elba, Chris Evans and more). For a small British production company, who is likely to not bring a film only made for $10 million stateside till after it's deep into it's international run, that is huge. They've probably done fairly well with pre-sales at this point. Does this **automatically** make Zoe the right choice? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Does this make her the wrong choice? We haven't seen if she can ACT the damn part yet. She may possibly give the best performance in the worse make up of the year--to be fair, we haven't seen the makeup in use, under studio lights and we don't know what additional touches, including limited CGI*, they maybe using in post-production. She may also give a sh*tty performance in even sh*ttier makeup--get that Razzie acceptance speech ready then. We just don't know yet. However, as much as we complain about the difficulty of financing for Black filmmakers, the lack of films about our history and innovators, and the dearth of opportunities, we should be the first to recognize why Zoe was (and had to be) probably picked over others. There's not a lot of women of color that have any discernible international profile. Until we see her performance, all the backlash here could be justified, or folks may have to eat humble pie. We definitely have a long ass way to go. The reactions to this current election have forced up some nasty, nasty stuff to the surface. It's a sure sign that folks are to be skeptical of Hollywood and the filmmaking industry's commitment and awareness of diversity. They are as much a part of this toxic soup as the rest of us. Yet, let's not reduce this so much that this continues to be less a robust discussion and debate and more just a continuing stream of generalizations and decades old frustrations about the state of Black filmmaking and actors that could be redirected into actually pushing the needle and arresting control into hands. *insert cynical they wouldn't need CGI if they got ______ post above this in 3...2...1...

  • sergio | November 11, 2012 8:31 AM

    "The movie, "Guess who" grossed $101 mil. "Star Trek" grossed $257 mil. "Avatar" $2 bil. These are all movies that Zoe Saldana had a prominent role in; she is therefore considered a huge selling point when it comes to raising finance, and potentially sparking interest in a global audience.' Yeah I've heard that too that that the only real reason why Saldana was chosen for Simone film. But she's just lucky. ANY actress could have played those same roles and the films would have done just as well. In fact Saldana just edged out Kerry Washington for the Star Trek film. If Washington has gotten the role instead would she have been cast as Simone? Can Saldana put butts in the seats on her name alone? Columbania was a middling b.o. performer at best

  • CP | November 10, 2012 4:24 AMReply

    It's going to do well in the begining because people are going to be curious. Then word of mouth will either build it or kill it. At this stage I'm not remotely interested in seeing it. The trailers are going to have to knock it out of the park to peak my interest (as well a lot of others). All I can say is Good Luck.

  • Tanji Gilliam | November 9, 2012 6:55 AMReply

    Didnt the Gabby debacle spew enough hatred between black women this year?

  • BluTopaz | November 9, 2012 9:56 AM

    There was no hatred spewing between Black women re: those ignant remarks about Gabby. Some anonymous troll made the comments, and half the Black blogosphere retaliated in Gabby's defense as if she was our little sister. Enough with the nonsense.

  • Blackman | November 8, 2012 1:28 AMReply

    I hope the movie BOMBS. Fails. And zoe go away with it. I only liked her in 'stomp the yard' and her aura is fugged upp to the MAX.

  • LisaW. | November 13, 2012 10:11 PM

    My fear is that as this movie bombs, so lessens the chances that people will take the chance on funding a black female story.

  • Luce | November 8, 2012 6:14 PM

    Oh, thanks. I was wondering. And I totally forgot she was in Drumline, to show you how much I cared about that one. And the only reason I remembered Meagan was because it was the first movie I've seen her in and I thought she was so beautiful. :) Yaya Dacosta, in Take the lead, is another actress I remember from a dance movie because of their beauty. lol

  • Everette | November 8, 2012 1:47 PM

    @Luce, he meant Drumline with Mr. Carey.

  • Luce | November 8, 2012 1:17 PM

    Wrong actress, that was Meaghan Good in "Stomp the yard". I don't think she did dance movies.

  • Vvocalz | November 8, 2012 12:42 AMReply

    Arie was dead on right. Despite her not being an actress or a producer doesn't take away from the fact that Zoe look ridiculous. This is a mockery. Period.

  • StyleFilmmaker | November 7, 2012 10:59 PMReply

    When we continue to allow Caucasian producers the opportunity to produce movies about us that's exactly what we are going to get. No one Black with money said that they would produce Nina Simone story. That movie will be a mockery of Nina Simone's history because the actress who took the role was inappropriately cast.The Black race spends billions of dollars each year on products, clothes and cars. But when it is time to produce stories about our history, everybody is tapped out. No money to be found! I'm a producer and Zoe is not even my 50th choice to play Nina. I wish Viola Davis would have made a phone call and exercise her power (Oscar Nominated) actress and said "Hey I'm available and you don't have to paint me black". But maybe, she didn't feel as strong as everyone else felt about her playing the role. I just don't want to see her continue to play these down trotted Black women. Playing the fierce and sassy Nina Simone would have been great for her. She should have fought for that damn role! We need a major Black fund to produce our stories about us and by us. Will that ever happen? Not the way we think!

  • Donella | November 8, 2012 12:05 PM

    No music rights? Why would anyone bother to watch? Maybe a more appropriate production will answer this one in a few years.

  • JMac | November 8, 2012 12:56 AM

    ....that is if the film is even completed or released absent a legal challenge.

  • JMac | November 8, 2012 12:33 AM

    Viola Davis or any decent black actress wouldn't have been involved with this film by a little known British production company that has refused to even consult with Nina's estate and don't even have the music rights. The whole thing has always been a big joke. It will come and go and nobody will pay it much attention or probably even see it. It may as well have been someone's school project.

  • LilliCastro | November 7, 2012 10:31 PMReply

    WHAT is the the CRAZY capitalization? It's like reading an EMAIL from my grandma, bless her.

  • Darnell | November 7, 2012 11:29 PM

    @Lillicastro, JC and Futuredilo, the point is, did you understand the article? It's appears the rest of the readers did, so who really has a problem? I mean, granted, there may be a few "grammatical" errors, but lets keep in mind that this is a blog entry, not meant for your professor's approval. And btw, if you're so concerned with editing, I'd suggest that you start at home-->"This article could have been interested if it didn't look like it was "cut and pasted" or whatever they did to it..." . Geez, I didn't know an "article" could be "INTERESTED"

  • JC | November 7, 2012 10:41 PM

    Tough read.... They really need a editor or a better one for this website. This article could have been interested if it didn't look like it was "cut and pasted" or whatever they did to it...

  • FutureDiplo | November 7, 2012 10:36 PM

    I agree.

  • urbanauteur | November 7, 2012 6:55 PMReply

    This nubian sister was JILTED by white record moguls for the creamy butterscotch complexion of Alecia Keys and this caravan of Paper Bag casting continues....

  • Rane | November 8, 2012 12:18 AM

    Agreed, there is bias in the music biz against chocolate sisters, it doesn't help that although Ms Irie is a far better singer than Ms Keys, her songs aren't as "catchy" and therefore don't sell as well.

  • Akimbo | November 7, 2012 4:23 PMReply

    I'm a fan of Arie's, particularly her earlier music (I think she's gotten rather repetitive), but as someone who is neither actor, nor filmmaker, nor person who knew Nina, her weigh-in matters very little. Same for Jill Scott. I think the continued outrage is hilarious, because no matter the star, barely anyone was going to see this film. And some of the alternate suggestions (Arie included) are ridiculous. Is Simone's even an actor? It's like people think this is a best look-alike contest and not a freaking movie. I still don't feel Zoe is right for the role, but this whole thing has folk losing their minds.

  • Annette | November 7, 2012 7:00 PM

    Thank-you Akimbo. Tired of people suggesting singers for this role instead of people with good ACTING SKILLS. Respected Black actresses are what we need not singers and rappers. Like you said it's a movie, not a look-a-like contest. My problem with Zoe Saldana is not her Skin tone or looks but that she isn't a very good actress. Someone with Viola Davis level of skill is what we need.

  • ALM | November 7, 2012 3:25 PMReply

    I need S & A to upgrade the comments section. 1. I need to be able to put spaces in between the paragraphs in my comments. 2. I need apostrophes to copy over properly. Thank you :)

  • ALM | November 7, 2012 3:24 PMReply

    Based on S & A’s intro to this article, I expected Ms. Arie’s comments to be A LOT worse. Her comments are NOT bad at all. She spends the bulk of the piece critiquing the makeup and styling, the very thing that several commenters on this very website have critiqued.

    This part tickled me to no end. As Karen on “Will and Grace” used to say, “it’s funny ‘cause it’s true”. >>>>“If they were going to pick a person who looks NOTHING like Nina Simone … why not her daughter Simone *shrug* just saying …” Ms. Arie even praises Zoe’s acting ability in the piece. This piece is not inflammatory AT ALL. If you are a fan of Ms. Arie’s work (like I am), you know that she has ALWAYS been honest about the industry that she has worked in (see her Grammy protest a few years ago and comments when Alicia Keys swept the Grammys the year they both had amazing debuts).

    I also like the fact that Ms. Arie acknowledges that she is not a trained actor and may not be the best choice for the role. She is clearly humble. A lot of people in the music industry are conceited and think that they are “owed” roles. Ms. Arie’s honesty and integrity are the VERY reasons that she continues to be a class act and continues to have a loyal fan base. Who else besides me wants to hear the rest of the story about her cousin attempting to call Ms. Simone? ☺

  • Lauren | November 7, 2012 1:14 PMReply

    This subject is tired already... It's a movie! ...An imperfect depiction of a singer who was herself imperfect.

  • Turner | November 7, 2012 3:47 PM

    @Ta Neil-Your meds are ready for pick up.

  • Ta Neil | November 7, 2012 3:36 PM

    that's such a white supremacist zionist excuse...bravo!!! you win!!! lol

  • Winston | November 7, 2012 12:54 PMReply

    This broad looks nothing like Nina her damn self. Just because your skin complexion is similar, you think you look like her? GTFOH, and go finish your album already.

  • MYT | November 7, 2012 12:22 PMReply

    All the caps are distracting.

  • JMac | November 7, 2012 12:11 PMReply

    "If they were going to pick a person who looks NOTHING like Nina Simone … why not her daughter Simone *shrug* just saying …" Good point no matter how very unlikely it would have been considering their (screenwriter, production company, etc...) attitude toward Simone from the beginning.

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