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Nina Simone's Biopic Moving Full Speed; Screenwriter Talks Zoe Saldana, Love Story & Challenges

Shadow and Act By Vanessa Martinez | Shadow and Act August 25, 2012 at 10:49AM

I just found this interview with Cynthia Mort, screenwriter of the upcoming Nina Simone biopic, which has been the focus on several of our posts in the past two weeks.
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Nina Simone

I just found this interview with Cynthia Mort, screenwriter of the upcoming Nina Simone biopic, which has been the focus on several of our posts in the past two weeks.

We know the Simone film, a love story between the late icon and her nurse turned manager Clifton Henderson and starring Zoe Saldana and David Oyelowo in the respective roles, begins shooting in mid October.

According to this Entertainment Weekly interview, filming will take place off the Lost Angeles and Santa Barbara coasts, which will represent the south of France, where Simone spent her later years, from the early 1990's until her passing at age 70 in 2002.

Many of us have been questioning if the response to the film by Nina Simone's daughter will slow down, or halt the production of this project altogether. To recap, Simone's daughter and owner of her estate said that although she spoke to Mort in one occasion, she wasn't consulted for the making of the biopic; further attempts to contribute to the film were ingored by the filmmakers.

Well to the chagrin of many, the project is moving full speed. Mort, who co-wrote 2007 revenge thriller The Brave Onesays that recreating the musician's life on film is "a beautiful genre, if you do it right, and capture the essence of that person.”

And, that sounds wonderful, but what about her daughter's remarks, who says relationship between her mother and her homosexual assistant Clifton was strictly platonic? We know Mort's script is a love story between Simone and the much younger man (If you missed my breakdown of the script, read it HERE).

Well Mort says that Oyelowo’s character is a “composite of people,” and adds that, “Without sounding ridiculous, the love story is between Nina and her journey, like most artists. The male nurse character is used to show some incredible moments in her life.”

As far as Simone's daughter, Mort says that she has spoken to her but “Any creative decision is difficult," adding that, “It’s complicated. It’s her mother. I’m a mother and a daughter. I feel very strong about it in every way. I feel like we’re honoring her, Nina Simone.”

What does that mean exactly? Well, she obviously admits she took creative liberties, and that her script is inspired by Simone's life not based on it. I really hope she makes that clear in the film's marketing materials.

Mort says the romantic storyline of the film is a way to explore Simone's life. Perhaps she felt that a passionate romance was a more gripping way to humanize her character. So, sex sells no surprise here folks!

And what does Mort say about the mis-casting of Zoe Saldana?? She feels that her natural beauty along with her musical side are a great fit. “I think it’s a big role for anybody. Nina Simone was large, in many ways. She’s iconic and brilliant and talented,” She adds that she finds Zoe "incredibly compelling," and that "she has a lot of great qualities.”

And for those of us who wonder why is Mort, better known for her writing gigs in TV's Roseanne and Will & Grace, involved in this Nina Simone project; apparently Mort, a long time fan of the High Priestess of Soul, assisted Simone on a photo shoot in the mid 90's at Simone's then Hollywood apartment.

Mort also addressed the challenges to securing the song rights, which I'm surprised she was able to do. “Getting the song rights is complicated,” said Mort, who also says Nina's guitarist Al Schackman has been "incrediby supportive" of the movie. “With an artist like Nina, it’s scattered. We have secured the rights to a number of songs."

Like I mentioned previously, production is well underway. Mort says that the costumes and jewelry to be worn by Saldana are "unreal." Designed by Magali Guidasci (Zombieland), the screenwriter says they are going to be "insane and fantastic,” she adds, “It’s a big part of the music, also because it’s original. What Nina wore is not what anyone else could wear.”

At this point, I only hope Mort and the filmmakers are honest about making it very clear that this project is a recreation of Simone's later life and only inspired by it.

This article is related to: Zoe Saldana


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