Nina Simone's Daughter Opens Up Even More About Biopic, Answers Questions That Fill Gaps

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by Tambay A. Obenson
August 22, 2012 6:04 PM
22 Comments
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We reached out to Nina Simone's daughter, Simone (born Lisa Celeste Stroud), for an interview last week, but the folks at Ebony magazine beat us to it!

And in their interview with her, done by Dream Hampton, posted today, Simone fills in a few more holes for us, answering specific questions about casting, her involvement in the project, and more; I urge you to read the entire piece. It's short, but worth it!

Pieces of the interview that I found most interesting:

- First, she says that the one actress she's had in her heart for a very long time, to play her mother, is an actress that I don't think anyone mentioned: Kimberly Elise! Maybe someone did, but the most popular names mentioned were Adepero Oduye and Viola Davis. However, Simone does note that many have recommended Viola to her as well. 

- Secondly, in response to the question about Zoe Saldana's casting, Simone states:

I love Zoe Saldana’s work. I’ve seen some of her movies more than once and really enjoy what she brings to the screen. As an actress I respect her process, but I also know that there are many actresses out there, known or not, who would be great as my mother. The one actress that I’ve had in my heart for a very long time, whose work I’m familiar with already, is Kimberly Elise. Many people have spoken to me about Viola. I love her look. I love her energy. Both of the actresses that I’ve mentioned are women of color, are women with beautiful, luscious lips and wide noses, and who know their craft.

And as maybe a nod to Adepero Oduye, Simone adds that she'd also not have any problems casting someone *unknown".

- Third, in response to her non-involvement in the project, she said that, from the start, when Mary J. Blige wanted to make the film, several years ago, Nina Simone's family, nor any representatives, were contacted, and she (Simone) was very concerned, stating: 

How does someone just decide to do a story about someone and completely bypass family? Completely bypass her representatives? We offered to get involved with all the stuff that we have, from the music, to the pictures, to her writings, to connecting them with the stories of many people who were close to my mother, and we were ignored.

Certainly not a good way to launch a project; at the very least, meet with the family, even if nothing comes of that meeting; don't ignore them - especially if they actually request that you consider their involvement/input. What were Mary J. Blige and Cynthia Mort thinking? I don't quite understand what may have been running through their heads. We're talking about an icon here. You can't just dismiss the family and not expect some pushback. At the very least, I'd think that Mary J. Blige (at least) would've known better, being a musician, a public figure herself, and black.

Simone says that she did speak with Cynthia Mort once, a year and a half ago, saying that it was all very emotional for her; she said that Mort seems to really believe in what she's doing, although I don't think that eases Sinone's concerns a bit. She made what I thought was a very poignant comment - a comment she said she made to Mort as well, during their conversation:

I do remember saying to her that if any of us tried to take the story of Bing Crosby or, Dean Martin, or Frank Sinatra, or Elvis Presley and turn it into something that was a tall tale based on something that never happened, I doubt that we’d get very far.

She's probably referring to the fact 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.

- And fourth, she does address something that I brought up in my last post on this - specifically, that 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.

But Simone makes it clear that this is not an issue. 

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 [...] In my opinion, she came in through the back door [...] 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?’ [...] She told me she was told not to contact me [...] 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.

Unfortunate. I wonder who's advising Cynthia Mort on this??? She may not even be the one pulling the strings.

As I said before, all this negative attention just doesn't bode well for the project at this point; will any of this have any effect on the production? It's already scheduled to begin shooting in the fall, so maybe nothing is going to stop, or even slow down this train.

But knowing what I know now, I'm turned off even more by the whole thing. I'm still stuck on the fact that Simone actually reached out to them, but they ignored her! Like I said, at least have a conversation. Don't just ignore and dismiss. It's disrespectful!

And like Simone said, imagine if this were a Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley project; I doubt this is how things would develop.

You can read the full interview HERE.

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22 Comments

  • Wonder | August 28, 2012 3:23 AMReply

    Sign Petition to Re-Cast…
    http://www.change.org/petitions/jimmy-iovine-cynthia-mort-replace-zoe-saldana-with-an-actress-who-actually-looks-like-nina-simone#

  • Nadell | August 24, 2012 2:03 PMReply

    We've got to start being more in control. We don't own production companies, we aren't directors...and because of this our icons' stories are being completely censored, no WHITEWASHED!
    These icons need their stories told - and yes the stories are being told but at what expense?? Their stories are being told through the mouths/eyes/directing of others.

  • Donella | August 24, 2012 1:16 PMReply

    Kimberly Elise. Of course, she's perfect! I listed Tichina Arnold, Audra MacDonald, and Simbi Khali. I can't believe I didn't think of Elise. She's been Denzel Washington's go-to lead on three occasions and a twenty-year acting veteran. She'd rock the house as Nina Simone.

  • Adrienne | August 24, 2012 12:12 AMReply

    Called it. (I mentioned Kimberly Elise and Adepero Oduye.)
    https://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/253973_10150988957486339_881249985_n.jpg

  • ALM | August 22, 2012 10:50 PMReply

    Starry118 made the amazing recommendation of Nicki Micheaux on the previous Simone biopic post. Ms. Micheaux would be amazing. She has shown herself to have a good, strong, acting range. The only thing I am not sure of is whether she can sing. The good news is, when the RIGHT financing, RIGHT director, studio, distributor and producer meet, there is NO shortage of good actresses who could do the role proper justice.

  • starry118 | August 22, 2012 11:49 PM

    The petition is for a recast of the role. I wasn't able to post the entire link here, but a search for her name will bring it up.

  • starry118 | August 22, 2012 11:40 PM

    I really hope they consider her because, based on the above picture alone, she was made for this role. I just signed a petition on change.org that has over 1,700 signatures already!

  • ALM | August 22, 2012 10:36 PMReply

    "I do remember saying to her that if any of us tried to take the story of Bing Crosby or, Dean Martin, or Frank Sinatra, or Elvis Presley and turn it into something that was a tall tale based on something that never happened, I doubt that we’d get very far." << This. Sweet Baby Jesus. I called this last week! I said that noo ne would ever allow me to produce the biopic of either Freddie Mercury or Paul McCartney, so why does Mort get to "google" and create an entire biopic with NO REAL research. I did more research than this in junior high school when I was writing papers for English class. This is really, really sad on so many levels.

  • Neil | August 22, 2012 8:28 PMReply

    Another note is a lot of jewish woman are expanding or reviving their own careers off the backs of Blacks like jewish men do with black men. It's a parasitic symbiotic relationship the globe is seeing. This ugly Cynthia Mort seems not to be able to stand on her own two feet and Mary J. Blige just needs to retire because now she's being used. This will come back on her since she's considered the queen of R/B. You blew it little Mary! Go back to KFC.

  • NEIL | August 22, 2012 8:24 PMReply

    Yeah what's happening is a zionist spin on all AFRICAN history. They're grafting hispanics in and telling stories to make it compliment them or to cover what was really going on. I'm for one tired of it. I didn't see sparkle and I won't see this. Listening and learning about Nina Simone while at a break in my life kept me sane. Helped me to face my creativity and those who wanted to quelch it, and being a black woman. I won't co-sign this euro psychological attack on my melinine. They can go to hell.

  • hello | August 23, 2012 12:06 AM

    sparkle is made by the same people who made the first one

  • bondgirl | August 22, 2012 7:58 PMReply

    Heidi Levitt is casting for the role of Nina's daughter...I guess Amandla Stenberg was unavailable:/

  • GailS | August 22, 2012 7:31 PMReply

    I wonder who's was pulling Cynthia's strings, too. In this day of self publishing, Simone should consider writing a book about Nina.

  • Orville | August 22, 2012 7:31 PMReply

    Well to play devil's advocate maybe Ms. Mort feels that Nina Simone's daughter is too close to her mother and they feel they need distance to tell her story.

    In the creative process, I doubt the studio wants Nina Simone's daughter constantly trying to change the script or the vision they have for the film.

    On the other hand I can understand Nina's daughter being upset because she is concerned about the legacy of her mother being tarnished.

    But a biopic does need objectivity. The same kind of thing went on with the Winnie Mandela biopic. Now Winnie Mandela was a murderer and a criminal! Winnie killed a teenage South African boy, she slept with a white Afrikaner man. Winnie Mandela also has a controversial history with the ANC.

  • Miles Ellison | August 22, 2012 8:21 PM

    The problem is that they're not telling the story of Nina Simone's life. They're making it up.

  • BluTopaz | August 22, 2012 8:10 PM

    "maybe Ms. Mort feels that Nina Simone's daughter is too close to her mother and they feel they need distance to tell her story." That does not make any sense, especially since Simone offered valuable archival resources and access to Nina's colleagues and friends. And what does Mort have, besides Google to look up the man she has fabricated a story about? It's more like they want the freedom to make up ish as they go along, and distance from pesky little things like facts. It's all bogus, and I hope this flick tanks big time.

  • Akimbo | August 22, 2012 7:45 PM

    Yeah, I don't have a problem with Nina's daughter not being consulted much/at all; they should be talking to Simone's contemporaries, business associates, and friends.

  • misha | August 22, 2012 7:18 PMReply

    I don't believe Kimberly Elise was mentioned here but someone on another site suggested her. I could see it. Anyhow, Ms. Simone's revelations are sad but not at all surprising. It appeared obvious to me that the folks behind this project were/are suffering from a severe case of ignorance and arrogance.

  • K | August 22, 2012 7:08 PMReply

    Vomit. This is sickening. To quote Kanye West: "They rewrite history. I don't believe in yesterday." Do we as black people not deserve our stories to be told properly? They do say that history is often written by the white man. So we're taught history, but from the white man's perspective. Even when it's a black person's story. Simone seems like a lovely woman. I would be more interested in a story/film she had some say in.

  • Ny | August 22, 2012 8:07 PM

    Amen.

  • D.A. | August 22, 2012 7:06 PMReply

    Well I'll know what to tell my parents if they start seeing info about a "Nina Simone" flick. I'm curious if she's done any interviews with NPR about this situation in particular. Other than that, we need to remember that this happens to a lot of the world's reverred icons and with popular historical places in history. How many films about the Nazi regime have been out? How many films about Muhammad Ali have their been (the ones were he isn't playing himself)? How many alleged biopics are there about Michael Jackson? and how many will there be? This is nothing new. But what Simone should do is roll with the punches and work with someone who is more than willing to tell the truth and not embellish for the almighty dollar. She knows what she wants and who she would prefer to be involved, so if that time comes, she should jump on it so we can end the nonsense.

  • JMac | August 22, 2012 6:31 PMReply

    Now that was just plain wrong (of Cynthia Mort). Who knows what Mary J. and David was aware of when they were contacted. They were probably told it was okay since it's a fictional depiction of real events? Not a valid defense but how many actors/singers take any effort to see if there are any legal/moral/ethical rights issues concerning a role they've agreed to play? Never would have thought of Kimberly Elise but I can see her as Nina.

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