The estate of Nina Simone took umbrage with a quote tweeted by actress Zoe Saldana, who will portray the late singer in a controversial, upcoming biopic.
Saldana has faced immense criticism over her casting in Nina due to her lack of both singing experience and resemblance to the singer and civil rights activist. She reportedly darkened her face with make-up and wore a prosthetic nose during the shoot. Upon the release of the first trailer for the long-delayed film, Saldana tweeted a Simone quote, “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me — No Fear … I mean really, no fear.”
Simone’s estate replied on Twitter, “Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.” Not long after, the account added: “Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing. It shall pass, but for now…”
A representative for the estate was not immediately available for comment.
In response to the controversy, Robert L. Johnson, founder and chairman of RLJ Entertainment, which will distribute Nina, said: “Zoe Saldana delivers an exceptional and mesmerizing tribute to Nina Simone. She gave her heart and soul to the role and displayed her extraordinary talent. The most important thing is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on the basis of color, or ethnicity, or physical likeness. Quality entertainment should be measured by the sheer force of creativity and the commitment that an actor or actress brings to the performance.”
Nina has received little support from Simone’s estate since the film’s inception. In a 2012 interview with The New York Times, Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, said of Saldana’s casting: “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide [and] her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise, this is not the best choice.” (Simone Kelly would go on to work on the acclaimed Netflix documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?)
Nina is now set to arrive in theaters and video-on-demand April 22nd, after its December 2015 release was pushed back. The film was written and directed by Cynthia Mort and focuses on Simone’s struggles to balance social activism with her celebrated music career. It also touches on her time living alone in France, where she met her assistant Clifton Henderson, played by David Oyelowo.
Along with its most recent pushback, Nina has been plagued by numerous delays throughout its production. Singer-actress Mary J. Blige was initially signed-on to play the singer in 2010, but backed out due to scheduling conflicts. In 2014, Mort filed a lawsuit against the film’s U.K. producer, Ealing Studios Enterprises Limited, claiming the company had breached the terms of her directorial deal.