Lisa Simone Kelly, the daughter of Nina Simone, has defended Zoe Saldana following the backlash stemming from the actress’ appearance in the long-delayed, controversial biopic Nina. However, Simone Kelly, like many members of the Simone family, remained critical of the biopic itself.
“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” Simone Kelly told Time. “It’s clear she brought her best to this project, but unfortunately she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.”
Simone Kelly clarified that the harsh tweet aimed at Saldana from the official and verified Nina Simone Twitter account came not from the Simone estate but a family friend who was hired to run the singer’s social media. After Saldana tweeted a Simone quote soon after the Nina trailer premiered, the Simone Twitter responded to the actress, “Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”
While Kelly defended Saldana, she did voice her displeasure with the actress’ physical appearance in the film, as well as the biopic itself; for Nina, Saldana wore a prosthetic nose and darkened her skin with makeup for the role.
“There are many superb actresses of color who could more adequately represent my mother and could bring her to the screen with the proper script, the proper team and a sense of wanting to bring the truth of my mother’s journey to the masses,” Simone Kelly said. “And Nina, in my opinion, doesn’t do any of that.”
Nina Simone’s brother Sam Waymon was also critical of Saldana’s appearance in the film, telling the New York Daily News Friday, “It’s an insult, to our people and their struggle and to all the things that Nina stood for in her music and all the things she stood for in her life. It takes a lot of guts and gall to do that,” adding that it’s “what we consider blackface.”
However, Simone Kelly’s main issue with the biopic is the storyline focusing on a romantic relationship between Simone and her manager Clifton Henderson, played in the film by actor David Oyelowo. “The movie is about a relationship between my mother and Clifton which never took place. They never had an amorous relationship,” Simone Kelly said, adding that Henderson was gay. “The project has been tainted from the very beginning. Clearly, it is not the truth about my mother’s life and everyone now knows that. This is not how you want your loved ones remembered.”