Zoe Saldana Will Play Nina Simone In The Jazz Singer’s Biopic


Truthfully, this should be filed under today’s That-Ish-Cray Of The Day, but those are usually kind of funny and there is nothing funny about this. Okay y’all. Bear with me while I get my rant on. Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek, Drumline with Nick Cannon) is playing jazz legend NinaNe Me Quitte PasSimone in an upcoming biopic????!!!!! Oh. Hell. No! ((deep breath)) Okay, I am so on my Emma Clark (the Twihard) ish right now. If I had the balls to make a YouTube account, oh the things that I would say! Lol, okay but seriously. No. Zoe Saldana is great. She’s cute. She’s funny (or something). She’s done some good work. However. Nina Simone… is… probably… a god. Or at least, if god could sing… she would totally try to sing like Nina Simone. That’s just, like, a scientific fact. Click inside for deets on this ridiculous news and more [not so]scientific facts from me about life, love, and light-skinned girls.

Indiewire has the bullshit report:

Sooo… last we reported on this project, it had been financed to the tune of $10 million, had been cast (Mary J. Blige & David Oyelowo in the starring roles), and was booked to start filming at the end of May last year, much to the chagrin of a lot of you folks.

That obviously DID NOT happen, as was initially reported.

Why? It had to be delayed until October, because, as you may recall, Mary J Blige later signed on to co-star in Rock Of Ages with Tom Cruise and the rest of that film’s cast.

I tend to get a little worried about projects that, at first, are announced as sure-things, and then get pushed around for one reason or another, no matter how valid.

Skip ahead to earlier today, around mid-day, when S&A reader Akimbo posted a comment on an old Nina Simone post saying that Zoe Saldana had taken over for Mary J, but without a source link.

That’s a rumor I’d heard previously, but didn’t want to post until I had further confirmation. After Akimbo’s comment, I was able to verify via 2 separate sources (1 a crew member who is attached to work on the project), that Zoe Saldana is attached to star as Nina Simone in the same film that has long been in development, with Cynthia Mort, whose credits include writing and producing several episodes of popular TV series like Roseanne and Will And Grace, still listed as the screenwriter and director of the project.

If you recall, the film will focus on Simone’s relationship with Paris-based manager Clifton Henderson who will be played by Oyelowo.

Still no official announcement just yet; however, if my sources are correct, and this actually moves forward, I’d need some convincing that Zoe Saldana can embody Nina Simone. The choice makes little sense to me.

OMG. I am sooo about to embarrass myself on this post, I can feel it! I just cannot remain professional in the wake of this news. I have to keep it real with y’all.

Hollywood. Needs. To. Stop. Casting. People. Because. They. Are. Light-Skinned.

LMAO. See? I’m so mad I can’t even keep it politically correct for like two seconds. But there is just no other explanation for this, given the other options for this role. Here are some suggestion for the lead role in the Nina Simone biopic from the interweb, where hella people are joining me in my rage against the machine (shouts-out):

1. Viola friggen Davis
2. Adepero Oduye (I’ve seen her work, but not her major roles in films; according to Indiewire, she would have killed)
3. Lauryn Hill (who may have some uh scheduling/prison conflicts, but yes would have been great)
4. Erykah Badu (if you want to go the singer/non-actress route)
5. Anika Noni Rose
6. Sanaa Lathan

The list goes on.  And here’s one of my fave comments from Indiewire:

Why don’t they ask Kim Kardashian to play Nina Simone!

LOL. Exactly.

Now, here’s the tricky part. People are really (like, even more than me) flipping out and some of the comments are turning into disrespectful statements against Nina Simone– i.e. Zoe’s too pretty to play Nina. And that kind of thinking is a part of the problem here. That the general public (and I’m guilty of this way of thinking as well) finds Zoe to be, eternally, prettier than Nina Simone and the aforementioned women (Viola Davis, Lauryn Hill, etc.).

Although the obvious thing to do is to talk about skin color and physical appearance (none of us can figure out why else Zoe would be chosen), true fans of Nina Simone are more angry about how the political energy of the singer and civil rights activist will be portrayed and even negated by this casting choice. Someone went so far as to share a (not-so-flattering) quote from Nina Simone about racial mixing and her choice to never straighten her hair and things like that. One of the points being that the same mentality that contributes to Zoe Saldana getting this role is the very thing Nina Simone fought against.

I should stress that my knowledge of Nina Simone is very limited, compared to many others, especially my African American Women’s History prof. (who I know is flipping out too, lol); she got her PhD studying Nina Simone and her contemporaries so what little I know I got from her. And I used to put Ne Me Quitte Pas on repeat while doing my French homework. That’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge; but I still know that this is not good news.

Okay, rant complete! Your thoughts???

Oh, and here are some of the images other sites are using to tell this story; I think it’s interesting…

And one more, for the road…

[Source] [Source] [Source]

  • Veronica

    I totally agree with you. I see the same kind of discrimination in Spanish soap operas- they always have light-skinned girls as the leads, never mind the fact that there are a large amount of women in the Hispanic world that are dark-skinned. I think Mary J. Blige was a good choice, and any of the women you mentioned as well.

    • Shannon

      Veronica thanks for commenting– and for pointing out that this issue is definitely a cross-cultural thing. There was also tons of chatter about Zoe’s actual nationality and how she identifies (some have said she always says she’s black while others claim that she identifies primarily as Latina). I didn’t get into all that because it’s less important to me how she defines herself (or even how we define her); I just want this movie to be good! And done right!

      Thanks again for commenting.

  • Ariel Echeverria

    i hope this doesn’t get racial in a very bad way, this said i’m with you shannon. viola davis would be amaziing!! here in my family we all are nina’s fans including my boyfriend

    • Shannon

      Ariel Echeverria, thanks for commenting. And it is definitely getting ‘racial’ on a lot of blogs. Race (skin color, ethnicity) is coming up a lot and it makes sense but again, it’s really about doing justice to Nina Simone.

  • Dasha

    I agree with you. But I can’t take you seriously if you add “lol” after every serious point you make.

    • Shannon

      Dasha! I’m so glad you wrote this… I try not to take myself too seriously in any situation, so you’re probably on the right path here.

      However, I’m also guilty of masking my rage (and various other forms of pain) with humor and gratuitous laughter. That being said, I’ll take a moment to say here that I was seriously unhappy with this news.

      Thanks for commenting, Dasha.

  • bosie

    …..W O N D E R F U L JOB!!!!!!!!!!

    • Shannon

      bosie, is it safe to assume that your post is dripping in sarcasm? Lol…

      Otherwise, it should be said that Zoe Saldana CAN act. And since I don’t expect my ranting and raving to have much of an effect, I really do hope that she acts her butt off and makes me put my foot in my mouth. I don’t see it in her, but I love to be proven wrong.

  • Fabio

    I so didn’t so the problem with Zoe playing this I mean… Look at charlize theron before monster for instance. Then you said viola Davis and yes that would have been the perfect casting choice. I also don’t think it’s right to go on looks not going into the whole skin colour issue but she might have had an amazing audition.

    • Shannon

      Fabio, I’m so glad you brought up Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos. NOT because of the monstrous aspect of the transformation, but because of the dramatic, unrecognizable factor. If Zoe Saldana can become UNRECOGNIZABLE for this role, she will shut us all up and down. Otherwise, yes, I’ll still be mad they gave away Viola Davis’s role.

      But you’re right– ‘she might have had an amazing audition.’ In fact, I really, really, really hope you’re right. Thanks again for commenting.

  • Ella

    This argument can go a lot of different directions. Maybe the issue isn’t just the light-skinned component, but the fact that she also has the euro-centric features that are widely associated with beauty in Hollywood. Zoe would not have been cast as the maid in The Help. But because this is a lead role, they needed either a big name (Mary J) or someone who is widely thought of as beautiful. It’s BS. Everything else aside I just think it’s bad casting. Anyone who has heard Nina sing won’t believe that voice coming out of Zoe. Why not have open casting and find a new face? I just think the studio thought if they actually cast someone who looked enough like Nina Simone the film wouldn’t make money.

    • Shannon

      Ella, thanks for weighing and you are so right to complicate the light-skinned issue by speaking to the idea of euro-centric features. And I believe you’re right as well about the studio’s decision to cast Zoe based on public appeal and– of course– money. It just sucks! Because you can make any film you want to make AND make money (with the ‘right’ people); why does they HAVE to apply this method to the Nina Simone biopic??!!!

      It’s going to be very very hard to believe that that voice is coming out of Zoe– when you wrote that I thought of Billie Holiday’s biopic Lady Sings The Blues, also (IMO), mis-cast with little Diana Ross trying to belt out those tunes. Yikes.

  • Marie

    I hope she pulls an Anne Hathaway and blows us away! OH Lauryn Hill would be SO GOOD! If only…

    • Shannon

      Marie, I actually thought Anne Hathaway was gonna pull it off all along, and– like I said to Fabio– I hope Zoe does do something cray! In another world it would be Lauryn. In another world…

      :) Thanks for commenting Marie.

  • AJ

    I Think this could be another jump the gun situation about casting. I remember sitting in my room years ago reading that pretty boy heath ledger would play the Joker in the upcoming Batman movie and i almost spit up the cereal I was eating. While I have much respect for fans of certain authors and singers, I think a lot of times we forget to take into account what happens in auditions. Many of these stars show real talent in the audition and really blow away the casting directors. I’ve been a fan of Zoe ever since she was in a little move called CenterStage and she has come a LONG LONG way. Lauryn is one of my favorite singers so of course as an obvious choice she could do good. But as a biopic this is about much more than picking someone who can look the part. It boils down to when people want to cast just because a person in real life, looks or acts like a character. Thats not acting thats just being lucky. real acting is when a pretty boy can go crazy and a sexy girl can be soulful.

    • Shannon

      AJ, I was talking to an actress friend of mine last night and she said something similar; that we don’t know what these artists do in their auditions. So yes, Zoe could have pulled out some ish we’ve never seen (and I agree that she is a talented actress).

      We’re also jumping the gun because, while the sources are buzzing, the studio has not officially confirmed this news.

      Thanks for commenting AJ.

  • forelli

    this isnt going to sell well, so if they do its fine so long as i dont see this rubbish all over the place i dont care but i think its STUPID how they’ve cast zoe saldana not because of her skin tone that doesnt matter its the 21st century its more about the singing and the talent i dont believe shes a serious enough actress to do it. i think lauren hill is perfect for this role as she sung a lot about thisstuff and has a passion for it and therefore will take it very seriously.