Long-Delayed Nina Simone Biopic Sets December Release

Controversial, long-delayed 'Nina' explores rise of legendary singer-songwriter/activist

'Nina,' a biopic about the rise of Nina Simone starring Zoe Saldana, will hit theaters in December Credit: Ealing Studios

Nina, the long-delayed Nina Simone biopic starring Zoe Saldana in the title role, will hit theaters in December, with RLJ Entertainment acquiring North American rights to the project, Entertainment Weekly reports. 

Written and directed by Cynthia Mort, the film chronicles Simone's struggles to balance social activism with her acclaimed music career, which included 15 Grammy nominations and legendary songs like "Feeling Good" and "My Baby Just Cares For Me." Nina also touches on the isolation Simone felt living alone in France, where she met her assistant Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo). 

Robert L. Johnson, RLJE chairman and BET founder, enthused about his excitement for the biopic and his personal connection to the iconic singer. "I had the special privilege early in my career of working with Ms. Simone while coordinating a performance for former D.C. Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy and knowing first-hand of her major contribution to the soul and emotion of the civil rights movement," he said in a statement, noting that "her story and legacy" will made available across "various media platforms in the coming months."

Nina has seen numerous delays in recent years. Singer-actress Mary J. Blige previously signed on to star as the singer in 2010, but scheduling conflicts forced her to back out. Saldana was brought on in 2012, but faced criticism because of her singing inexperience and lack of resemblance to Simone. "What keeps me focused and what kept me from getting stressed from being hurt by the comments is I'm doing it for my sisters, I'm doing it for my brothers, and I don't care who tells me I am not this and I am not that," the actress told HipHollywood in 2013, responding to the backlash. "I know who I am, and I know what Nina Simone means to me."

Mort filed a lawsuit against the film's U.K. producer, Ealing Studios Enterprises Limited, in 2014, claiming the company had breached terms of her directorial deal. Simone's daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, criticized the film in an interview with the L.A. Times, working instead on this year's acclaimed Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?