Two years ago, Zoe Saldana completed filming the controversial film Nina, a ‘love story’ to the late iconic singer. Facing problems from the start, including a backlash about Saldana’s casting in the project, a refused endorsement from the Simone family and a lawsuit filed by the film’s director Cynthia Mort, we are still yet to see anything from the project except some set photos. Saldana, who is featured in next months In Style magazine has spoken about her role in a not yet available interview that The Huffington Post gained exclusive access to.
“I didn’t think I was right for the part, and I know a lot of people will agree, but then again, I don’t think Elizabeth Taylor was right for Cleopatra either… An artist is colorless, genderless… It’s more complex than just ‘Oh, you chose the Halle Berry look-alike to play a dark, strikingly beautiful, iconic black woman’. The truth is, they chose an artist who was willing to sacrifice herself. We needed to tell her story because she deserves it”, Saldana is quoted as saying.
Mary J Blige was originally set to play Simone which seems like a safer choice, but Saldana is a fantastic actress that was clearly ready for a meatier role in which she could really develop her range and she is more bang for your box office buck. Many critics concerned with continuity, slated this choice because Saldana is not a world renowned singer and has significantly lighter skin than Simone. Allegations of race discrimination were thrown around and Saldana had to defend her identity as a result.
When interviewed by Monarch Magazine last year about this controversy she said, “I find it uncomfortable to have to speak about my identity all of the time, when in reality it’s not something that drives me or wakes me up out of bed every day. I didn’t grow up in a household where I was categorized by my mother. I was just Zoe and I could have and be anything that I ever wanted to do… and every human being is the same as you. So to all of a sudden leave your household and have people always ask you, ‘What are you? What are you?’ is the most uncomfortable question sometimes and it’s literally the most repetitive question. Because I can’t wait to be in a world where people are sized by their soul and how much they can contribute as individuals and not what they look like … I feel like as a race, that’s a minute problem against the problems we face just as women versus men, in a world that’s more geared and designed to cater towards the male species“.
It cannot be denied that Saldana worked her ass off for this role, “I did a lot of research to prepare for ‘Nina’. I took piano lessons, voice lessons, worked with a dialect coach, and I really invested months of just doing research about Nina – her background, her story, her life. My research ranged from reading books about Nina, listening to her music, watching footage of her”, she told Monarch Magazine.
So it is a shame that her director has accused Ealing Studios of hijacking the feature, hampering her creative involvement in the editing and post production. This legal process has delayed the film’s release and placed another dark cloud of doubt upon the quality and authenticity of the final product. Despite the legal battle, Ben Latham-Jones of Ealing Studios did confirm last month that the film will be released via eOne and Universal Worldwide later in the year. He did not give a date unfortunately.
The question of an actor’s suitability for certain parts has always been a sore point in Hollywood. It is a well known fact that a beautiful actress that ‘uglies up’ for a gritty role is almost guaranteed an Oscar nomination, and non transsexual actors playing the roles of trans characters often suffer backlash as well. It is an unfortunate by-product of an industry that is commercial as well as creative, based on both illusion and fact. I truly hope that Nina will ride over its wave of negativity through caliber and class but the battle between the director and studio does not bode well for this outcome. Maybe the trailer will give us a hint, if one appears any time soon that is.