Nina Simone's Daughter Finally Speaks: 'Project Is Unauthorized; Simone Estate Not Consulted'

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by Tambay A. Obenson
August 16, 2012 8:40 PM
44 Comments
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Well, here it is... as I mentioned in my post earlier this morning, Nina Simone's daughter, Simone (born Lisa Celeste Stroud) posted a comment on Facebook yesterday, saying that she would share her thoughts on the film project centered on her mother's life, that Zoe Saldana is attached to star in, along with David Oyelowo.

24 hours later, she's done just that, and I think it fills in some holes; most notably, she states that this specific project is unauthorized, and that the filmmakers never requested permission, nor invited the participation of the Nina Simone Estate.

She also addresses Zoe Saldana's casting, albeit not directly. But it's all there.

And lastly, she makes it clear that Clifton Henderson (the character David Oyelowo is attached to play) was gay, and thus, Nina Simone and Clifton Henderson never had a relationship other than a business one, even though the proposed film project implies otherwise; after all, it is described as a love story between the two.

But I'll stop here and let you read her words for yourselves:

Greetings Nina Simone Lovers, Simone here.

I have read many of the comments am happy you all took the time to share your thoughts and feelings.

Here's mine:

When the announcement initially hit the press with MJ Blige cast as Nina (about 6 yrs ago) I heard it along with everyone else. The story was written as a love story between my mother and her former nurse, Clifton Henderson and primarily takes place during the last 8 years of her life.

Please note, this project is unauthorized. The Nina Simone Estate was never asked permission nor invited to participate.

I have seen many names regarding who you think should play the role of Nina. Remember Angela Bassett as Tina Turner? SHE NAILED IT! Angela Bassett is an ACTRESS! And, we all know she lip synced along with Tina and did an amazing job. Personally, I prefer an actress to a singer. Just because a person is great at one does not mean they will be great at the other. If written, funded and CAST PROPERLY a movie about my mother will make an lasting imprint.

My vision of a movie about my mother includes SO many pivotal moments that are monumentally important towards relaying the journey of a woman whose journey began as a child prodigy born in North Carolina in the 1930's...too many to list here but, trust when I say the tale will inspire through the sheer sharing of HOW Eunice Waymon became Nina Simone, The High Priestess Of Soul renowned worldwide. How many of you know my mother's FIRST love was classical music? Do you know the hours she practiced preparing to audition for the Curtis Institute of Music only to be rejected because of the color of her skin? **After my mother made her transition I accepted a diploma from that very same institute with a speech she began writing but was unable to finish prior to her death.** As a child, my mother was told her nose was too big and she was too dark yet she graduated valedictorian of her high school class - The Allen School for Girls - AND, skipped two grades. Nina was one of the most outspoken, prolifically gifted artists using the stage to speak out against racism during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. Her friends included Betty Shabazz, Lorraine Hansberry (my godmother), Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Miriam Makeba, Stokely Carmichael, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings and Queens worldwide. Had she become a classical pianist, which was her dream....shattered, I doubt she would have found her true destiny. Nina Simone was a voice for her people and she spoke out HONESTLY, sang to us FROM HER SOUL, shared her joy, pain, anger and intelligence poetically in a style all her own. My mother stood up for justice, by any means necessary hahahaha YES, she was a revolutionary til the day she died. From Tragedy to Transcendence - MY VISION. The whole arc of her life which is inspirational, educational, entertaining and downright shocking at times is what needs to be told THE RIGHT WAY.

By the way:

Clifton Henderson was gay. He was not attracted to women. So, the truth is...Nina Simone and Clifton Henderson NEVER had a relationship other than a business one.

Please correct me, but isn't a biopic the story of one's life?

I have faith things will work out the right way and my mother's real story will be told. For all she endured while here and all of the lives she has touched, she DESERVES to be remembered for who she truly was; not some made up love story from a former nurse/manager (now deceased) who sold his life rights because of his relationship to Nina Simone.

Ciao Y'All....Simone

So there ya go! In her own words. 

I'd close this out and say that all this negative attention just doesn't bode well for the project at this point. It's already scheduled to begin shooting in the fall, so maybe nothing is going to stop, or even slow down this train.

But we'll see... it won't be the first time an unauthorized project has moved forward; although some would argue that a lack of influence by the person, or anyone related (personally or in business) to the person who's at the center of the biography, could have some effect on the overall project, as we've seen in recent years with planned projects centered on the lives of prominent figures like Martin Luther King Jr that have stalled because influential parties who were close to him, took issue with planned depictions of his so-called vices.

In essence, they wanted a hagiographies.

Not that I'm implying that's the case here with this Nina Simone project; just offering some further insight.

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44 Comments

  • vernon | March 20, 2014 3:48 PMReply

    Out of respect for Nina Simone, I will not watch this movie. As for you Zoe Saldana, since you dont want to identify with Blacks in America, we will not identify with you but boycott your movies like Rosa Parks .

  • Bre | November 29, 2012 3:12 PMReply

    Zoe Saldana looks more like Nina Simone's daughter, Lisa (who is biracial) than the actual Nina Simone. Zoe has NONE of Simone's features. Not the right nose. Not the right lips. Not the right color. She's just wrong in every way.

  • JDub | August 22, 2012 5:59 PMReply

    Viola Davis! Glammed up she would be a stunning, powerful, and graceful Nina Simone. I think her portrayal of Miss Nina Simone would be reminiscent of Angela Bassett's Tina Turner!

  • Mark | October 2, 2012 3:27 PM

    I wholeheartedly agree. I'd love to see Viola Davis' interpretation of Nina Simone!

  • Nadine | August 22, 2012 4:28 PMReply

    More from the daughter of Nina Simone on Cynthia Mort and Colorism (EBONY MAGAZINE, Aug 22, 2012) - Question: So you’re not a gatekeeper. For instance, there are longstanding rumors that Jimi Hendrix’s family, who holds the rights to almost all of his music, won’t allow his music to be in a film that shows him using drugs. So you’re not someone who’s trying to whitewash your mother’s legacy is what you’re saying?

    Simone: No, not at all. Her life is educational, inspirational, entertaining, and downright shocking at times. My mother was good at shocking people. She enjoyed it and she did it well. So why do we need to embellish, to build a tall tale? That is what Cynthia Mort has done. She has taken my mother’s name and then bought the life rights to her male nurse turned manager, Clifton Henderson’s life. In my opinion, she came in through the back door. I was saying, come in the front door, let’s have a cup of tea, let’s talk about it. Let’s work together. I asked her ‘How did you get in contact with Clifton?’ She said she googled him. I asked her ‘If you googled him, I was starring on Broadway at the time. I’m her only child. I’m not hard to find. Why didn’t you contact me?’ It’s interesting because it took a little while, but the truth finally came out. She told me she was told not to contact me. My mother and I had our ups and downs, like any family, but we loved each other until the end, and I wouldn’t try to edit our troubles out of any project. When Cynthia and I ended the call, we agreed to talk again the next day. I felt like we’d broken some really good ground that we’d created a place from which we could continue to communicate. But when I called into the conference call the next day, I was the only one on the line.

    Question: That’s so common and so sad. I’d like to circle back to casting, a final question, also based on something you said about your mother’s childhood. How important was colorism to your mother? You wrote that as a young girl she’d been told that she was "too Black" and her nose was "too wide." Was that an issue throughout her life?

    Simone: I don’t think people told her that throughout her life, but I can guarantee that the sense of insecurity and the questioning of one’s beauty that results from a grownup telling you that as a child you’re too black and your nose is too wide, remained with her for the rest of her life.
    ...more at EBONY.com - (http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/nina-simones-daughter-on-her-mothers-real-legacy-133/2)

  • DL | August 22, 2012 2:25 PMReply

    For anyone defending this decison how come they didnt have a problem with casting daniel day lewis as lincoln, michelle williams as marlyin monroe? and countless others i could mention. Hollywood made sure they found an actor who resembled their WHITE icons but anyone will do when it comes to blacks?
    Hopefully this will be the driving force and impetus for black people to write create and produce their own material when it comes to portraying their icons this may be the inspiration bp need to develop their own "authenic" nina biopic but alas, im not holding my breath.

    Btw if they wanted a beautiful, comercial actress who was well-known in europe why not Kerry Washington? I would have NO problem with her taking on the role; she could easily pass for nina and has the acting chops to pull it off.

  • starry118 | August 18, 2012 8:20 PMReply

    This response really makes me hungry for her biopic made with the daughter's participation and input. Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Kasi Lemmons, Robert Townsend...somebody with the conviction and determination to create an authentic, quality piece- please get on this and make it happen.

  • starry118 | August 18, 2012 7:51 PMReply

    Looking at Nina in this picture, I'm reminded of Nicki Micheaux from "Lincoln Heights."

  • starry118 | August 22, 2012 6:35 PM

    Not finding anything indicating Micheaux's singing ability...India can sing, but I'm wondering if could she sing Nina? Either would probably have to lip synch, because people will want to hear Nina's voice really.

  • starry118 | August 22, 2012 6:09 PM

    Sorry, just seeing this...I'm not sure if she sings. I started watching "Lincoln Heights" on Hulu, again recently, and I think that's why she came to mind. I saw (in another S&A article?) where someone suggested India Arie...she'd be great too, but can she act?

  • ALM | August 18, 2012 8:12 PM

    @ Starry118: Oh my gosh, Starry118. You are a genius. Of all of the names that popped up this week, we all forgot about Nicki. She looks just like Nina. Does Nicki sing too?

  • K | August 17, 2012 5:55 PMReply

    Now that I know that truth I am annoyed. No offense to white people, but why are they the ones writing our stories? Why aren't black folks directing and/or writing films about Nina Simone, Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansbury, etc? It seems we don't even want to tell our own stories. We can talk about how no one would watch it, no studio would finance it, yada yada yada, but we can make things happen even on a smaller scale. Then maybe a Viola Davis would star, or an Adepero Oduye. And maybe we would actually let her family have some input because, you know, they actually knew her. Sigh. This movie sounds like it's going to be the travesty that the Winnie Mandela flick seems to be turning out to be. I do like Zoe. I like her acting. And I would love to see her in more films where she isn't just the love interest or an action hero, but perhaps the next time someone does a Nina Simone flick it's done right.

  • Fanita | October 23, 2012 9:42 AM

    If she can act, she doesn't have to know how to hold a 'key'. Remember Angela Bassett as Tina Turner???

  • Donella | August 17, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    That clears up a lot of background about this project. It's not a good look in terms of publicity. Hopefully Nina Simone's daughter will be able to participate in a true production of Nina Simone's contribution to music and culture.

  • JGM | August 17, 2012 12:18 PMReply

    I feel a a sense of relief. Nina Simone was a Master Artist and one should cross yourself three times when you speak her name. She had talent, fearlessness and dedication. She played Bach at three. I would love to see a film honoring her life, her enormous success, her struggle with her demons, her commitment to civil rights and her dealing with her demons. I would hate for her life to be abridged for the masses ala Lady Sings The Blues which was all Diana Ross with no Lady Day.

  • LEDISI | August 17, 2012 12:00 PMReply

    So this is the FABRICATED CLIFTON HENDERSON biopic masquerading as the TRUE NINA SIMONE story?

  • SFM | August 17, 2012 1:34 PM

    A complete and utter fabrication; one that is laughable and insulting at the same time.

  • Onyx | August 17, 2012 11:52 AMReply

    I really hope they get the history of the time period right . . . I've been stomping for Viola Davis ever since I got wind of the project. I hope they don't forget to include Miriam Makeba. This could be so great if they let it.
    http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/viola-davis-as-nina-simone-hey-i-can-dream-cant-i/

  • ALM | August 17, 2012 10:56 AMReply

    "And lastly, she makes it clear that Clifton Henderson (the character David Oyelowo is attached to play) was gay, and thus, Nina Simone and Clifton Henderson never had a relationship other than a business one"

    Simone just confimed what I have been saying this entire week. What makes Mort qualified to write this screenplay? It's apparent that the filmmakers and producers know very little (if any accurate information) at all about Ms. Simone's life. If they didn't even know that the nurse was gay, then they have a lot of other things wrong too.

  • BluTopaz | August 17, 2012 10:07 AMReply

    Simone's last paragraph sums it all up for me. I am guessing the list of songs that will be played in this sham of a movie (as per Vanessa's very helpful post) were not written by Nina? The arrogance of these filmmakers to not even inform the Simone estate is astonishing. And then to fabricate a love story because they are too lazy to research the authentic stories of this dynamic woman...I already know they will not portray her as practicing her craft as Simone described here, but merely as a mentally ill, sex crazed, musically talented Black woman wearing fabulous headwraps and African jewelry. This is why I often prefer documentaries to this creative license, culture vulture bullsheet.

  • Janice | August 17, 2012 9:37 AMReply

    After, reading what her daughter just explained I feel the story of her life should be written right. Please send letters to the company and tell them to tell the true story of Ms. Simon the right way.

  • social_butterfly | August 17, 2012 5:25 AMReply

    omg yes!!! viola would be great; a much better choice than zoe!!! i don't think an actress has to look exactly like the person they're portraying; it's more impt to evoke the spirit of the person. it's the same reason why a singer doesn't have to be casted either (idk about mary, i def don't think she'd be a good choice, but maybe i just don't see it). :/ maybe someone else will make a better movie for her and have viola portray her.

  • Martine | August 17, 2012 4:57 AMReply

    Being an actor who probably wants the challenging role portraying a complex famous and dynamic black woman, I can understand Zoe Saldana wanting to take on this assignment. As a movie viewer who routinely doesn't see my favorite actresses in lead movie roles because their too ethnic features disqualifies them by casting agents and directors, it is disappointing that the pattern repeated with a movie about, of all people, Nina Simone. I own DVDs of many Zoe Saldana films but I probably won't see this one. I hope that Ms. Saldana gives the performance of her life and it will pull me into a movie theater to make me see a movie about which I had huge reservations. Meryl Streep did it for me in Out of Africa and Heath Ledger did it for me in Brokeback Mountain & The Dark Knight. This movie doesn't sound like it will be anywhere nearly as well made as La vie en rose so I probably will continue waiting to see a movie biography as exceptional as Nina Simone was.

  • hj | August 17, 2012 12:06 PM

    i agree regarding casting, but what upsets me even more is that simone was an oddly beautiful woman, not classically beautiful as we would think (by modern and commercial standards) so for me the casting of zoe saldana is more a remark on the industry thinking that an audience will not see nor appreciate an actress who is (my words) not pretty, petite, or light and lovely bothers me. not to mention, based on the article, the movie apparently takes place over the last 8 years of ms. simone's life. wouldn't that make saldana too young to even play her? another writer mentioned viola douglas, who i definitely agree would be a stronger and better choice, not only because of her look more closely matching the womanly strength that was ms simone but also because of her age and life experience in portraying that complex individual. i'm disappointed mostly because we so rarely have these opportunities. the last successful black biopic that comes to mind (in my opinion) was "ray" starring jamie fox. if this could be that film i would support it 100% but i sadly have a feeling it is not going to be, no offense to ms. saldana.

  • RACHEL | August 17, 2012 1:25 AMReply

    Odd that no one is talking about Cynthia Mort. Look into her background and reputation. It's not pretty. This falls right in line.

  • AccidentalVisitor | August 17, 2012 12:43 AMReply

    So this Clifton guy was supposedly gay but they will either ignore that or make the character a heterosexual? Hmmm. Considering Zoe has been cast they might as well make him white too. :D Sorry. I could not resist. ;)

  • SFM | August 17, 2012 1:19 AM

    Clifton was not "supposedly gay", he was RuPaul/Liberace/Richard Simmons gay. The problem is that Cynthia Mort (who wrote Will & Grace) is a sitcom writer and could not write a period piece about Nina Simone's part in the civil rights movement, and instead has crafted a vapid, stupid and completely untrue sex romp that never occurred between Nina Simone and Clifton Henderson. (She somehow managed to overlook Clifton's monogamous relationship with his boyfriend.)

  • Yvonna Russell | August 16, 2012 11:09 PMReply

    I think Adepero Oduye would make a wonderful Nina Simone. Beautiful and talented actress. The best biography of Nina Simone I read was by David Brun Lambert and was excellent. She is a great icon and I hope someone makes a movie worthy of her talent.

  • SAB | August 16, 2012 10:48 PMReply

    I was there and I knew Nina and Clifton. Clifton was exclusively gay and in a monogamous relationship with his boyfriend. Nina and Clifton were certainly close, but he worked for her and their relationship was not romantic.

  • ALM | August 17, 2012 11:00 AM

    @ SAB: Where have you been this week? You could have been giving us the legit tea on this situation all along. :)

  • Nadine | August 16, 2012 10:32 PMReply

    Again, Nina had a very distinctive look for someone in the public eye. A look that was readily not preferred even amongst Black American populations. If we are to believe that, from birth on, Nina's being, her body, had nothing to do with the choices she made in life, her chosen fields and her pursuit of excellence, then we are all fooling ourselves. "The worst thing about that kind of prejudice... is that while you feel hurt and angry and all the rest of it, it feeds your self-doubt. You start thinking, perhaps I am not good enough." - Nina Simone One of my favorite Nina Simone performances: a classically inspired "My Baby Just Cares for Me" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDRhRv4q_SI).

  • B | August 16, 2012 11:59 PM

    Very well said, indeed.

  • NO BRAINER | August 16, 2012 11:03 PM

    Well said NADINE!!!

  • Jmac | August 16, 2012 10:31 PMReply

    Deja vu

  • misha | August 16, 2012 10:05 PMReply

    Yep, sounds like a recipe for disaster!

  • Gene | August 16, 2012 9:53 PMReply

    Agree, damone, Viola would of been a better choice to play Nina than zoe, no offense, but Zoe doesn't look or have the essence to play Nina, no shade, but it is the truth and for them to do this to an icon that did so much for the black community and for people as a whole is a travesty and I am not surprise, smdh. I will not be supporting it.

  • Lvflg | August 16, 2012 9:52 PMReply

    Kudos to Zoe - she is a fine actress - just not right for this part.
    Let's face it - if a good story is told there will be TICKET sales.

  • NO BRAINER | August 16, 2012 11:05 PM

    SCOTT G. BROWN, please. You're giving me a headache.

  • Scott G. Brown | August 16, 2012 10:20 PM

    Very much in agreement, LVFLG, I would like to see a singer in the lead role, perhaps, Mary J. for the simple reason the Sound Track Album would be an asset all of its own-Mo Money!!
    I am a businessman, or haven't you heard?
    SCOTT

  • the black police | August 16, 2012 9:40 PMReply

    "As a child, my mother was told her nose was too big and she was too dark yet she graduated valedictorian of her high school class" Does this sound like Zoe? Will she getting makeup for her skintone and nose? The Clifton guy was gay? Shit shit shit, what a terrible project...

  • Damone Williams | August 16, 2012 9:03 PMReply

    Further reason why Viola Davis NEEDS to play Nina Simone:

    Imagine with me, if you will, a film about Nina, near the end of her life, full of flashbacks and memories of her journey...

    THIS is the Nina (Viola Davis) we are first introduced to:
    ---> http://bit.ly/Nr5yMn http://bit.ly/TIvtTf <---

    Get into it.
    ;-)

  • B | August 17, 2012 12:01 AM

    Good image, and one I can totally visualize.

  • Udeme | August 16, 2012 8:47 PMReply

    This is a matter that has to be treated delicately, and casting Zoe is just for ticket sales.

  • Leo the Yardie Chick | August 18, 2012 12:33 PM

    For real. Buts in seats, that's all Hollywood is going for. And making a gay man straight just to sell the film as a romance? Oh, I can't see ANYTHING going wrong with that! *smh*

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