By now, we’ve all read at least one angry screed or open letter regarding the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone. But just when you thought the topic had been entirely exhausted, here comes Aaron Overfield, the website content manager of NinaSimone.com, with a scathing criticism of writer/director Cynthia Mort, an appeal to the public to put discussions of Saldana’s “blackness” behind them, and a “talk-to-the-hand” rebuke to anyone who espouses the “don’t judge/wait and see/shut up about it” stance on the casting issue.

Says Overfield:

The most frustrating people are the ones who imply everyone should just shut up and “wait and see” or “leave them alone.” That kind of attitude and oppression is not in the spirit of Nina Simone whatsoever. Quite the opposite. Nina was vocal, defiant, a warrior, an activist. She would not have simply shut up and sat down. She would’ve shown up at the studio with a shotgun to speak with Ms. Mort and slapped the makeup off Zoe. So let’s get that straight first. We’re going to talk about this and those of us with strong, impassioned opinions are going to express them.

He goes on to state that, though the film’s production can’t be stopped, its more problematic notions should continue to be highlighted. Among those is the “straightfacing” of an out gay male, Clifton Henderson, who has been previously reported to be written as Nina’s love interest in Mort’s script:

It is also the first instance of Cynthia’s script exploiting a marginalized identity by essentially putting “straightface” on an out gay man. This is rather curious since Mort herself is a lesbian and you’d wonder how she’d feel being rewritten as a heterosexual woman under the guise of someone else’s “artistic license.” Would Cynthia Mort be pleased with someone rewriting her own history to the point where her sexuality becomes a trivialized inconvenience? I guess someone would have to ask her that. I won’t bother.

Welp.

Above all, Overfield takes umbrage with an issue that plagues many biopics, particularly black ones helmed by non-black writers and directors. The idea of buying the rights to someone’s life story, then altering it until it’s unrecognizable just because you can, is one that we should all find unsettling. Beyond casting Zoe Saldana, Cynthia Mort has show a blatant disregard for veracity, when it comes to being the first person to bring a version of Nina Simone’s life to the big screen. As Overfield reminds us, Mort hasn’t fact-checked, consulted Simone’s family, or shown any level of concern for respectfully rendering an icon’s lived experiences–and he believes one thing alone motivates that level of arrogance — privilege:

Cynthia Mort is not a black woman. That is a very crucial point here. I am a white man. I know that as a white man I do not have the authority to speak of the black experience because it is not my experience. I cannot and will not “speak” for black people or assume to know the intricacies of racism, as experienced by black people. The privilege and arrogance it takes to do so is disturbing and downright disgusting.

The entire open letter is certainly worth a read. In conversation with some of the other careful and thought-provoking write-ups on the issue, it leaves no stone of offense unturned.

Are you over the Nina biopic issue yet? Does this open letter re-fuel your anger? 

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    i will not pay to see the movie. if it fails to make money it will not be repeated.

  • sbee3

    Hopefully, it does straight to video, if it doesn’t halt before that!

  • http://writeitout.wordpress.com Natsai

    I just can’t stand it!! There’s no excuse. I hope they are black actresses picketing near set or something. I just got in to nina simone a couple yrs ago and i love her and her story! I would love to see her on the big screen and feel proud to witness a black woman’s struggle and conquer her obstacles.

    Her story is inspiring to dark skin girls around the world man and her music is haunting! It’s like having Laz Alonzo play Ray! And black men in the industry would not have stood for tht shit, imagine Spike Lee’s mouth?! But black women dont have enough power or representation in the industry and the ones who do (Oprah) are probably to afraid of the bureaucracy in Hollywood to stand up and call bullshit.

    Even if this isn’t popular among blacks nina simone crossed over to a worldwide audience and non-blacks will NOT understand the big deal and say black women are being insensitive, because come on we’re SOO overthetop.com all the time right? -_- They’ll find a token black to justify this and then it’ll be all peachy so the whites will feel guilty free. This is just so disgusting ill nvr support zoe saldana again and i liked her for what she was.

    This is what happens when ppl say they’re color blind or don’t ‘see race’. Race matters! My blackness is a very important characteristic and so was nina’s. I feel so robbed.

  • http://writeitout.wordpress.com Natsai

    And honestly it’s not many chances Hollywood gives black people there time to shine so when we get a chance to do a biopic of one of ours it has to be on point! And NINA SIMONE definitely has a better story than focusing on a bogus love affair! What an insult to her legacy! This woman lived several different lives they was really too much to work with.

  • maemay

    I’m not sure who this movie is for? Apparently Zoe is the most recognizable black actress which is supposed to drive white people to the theatre in droves??? seriously Zoe is cast in sci-fi movies that make money regardless.

  • Mike

    I saw a more recent picture of an older Nina Simone sitting at a piano. Sorry ladies she was not super dark. She looked like a BROWN skin black woman with black features.

    When did we get to the point of a brown skin black woman being too light too portray another black woman? Last I checked brothers didn’t have a problem with Terrence Howard playing Mandela.

  • MzChiTown

    They’re trying to build hype around the movie but its failing miserably. I will not pay to see this train wreck. My bootleg guy owes me a free movie anyway. .

  • leelah

    when the biggest black male actors have been wesley snipes and forrest wittaker and denzel washington, its clear that color and beauty doesn’t affect black men in hollywood the same way. I have no problem with zoe playing nina and I actually like her in the nina make-up. But I’m going to ask you to think about how black men and black women are treated differently in hollywood.

  • open minded

    This is a null and void topic to me at this point.. the fact that someone even mentioned cynthias race, white man or not.. nvm not going to go there.. I can’t wait to see this film.

  • Mike

    Ok, but if the issue is skin tone. The point is she was not really dark.

  • CurlyBunnie

    I’m not sure I agree w/all the negativity re Zoe playing Nina just because of skin color. Just think of Tyler Perry playing Alex Cross. No where in any of those books, is Alex described as a black man w/a black wife! We’ve been determined to cross those acting color lines and applauded when we’re successful doing it. Despite the anger of some white folks. {At least Zoe isn’t white!} I take issue w/the fact that no one has approached Nina’s family, and the artistic license taken w/the lifestyle change of her friend. Don’t know if I’ll watch it, but it will be interesting.

  • D.T.

    I just wonder when black people will start making movies telling our stories correctly and stop whining about what Hollywood is doing or isn’t doing? Oh my bad, we actually are doing those things but black people won’t support such efforts. We rather beg white people to tell our stories.

    We are notorious for begging white people to treat us fairly. If black people had a monopoly on this country do you think I would care about what white folks wanted? Absolutely not!

    How about we stop giving our money to churches, hair supply companies and McDonalds and start doing things for ourselves? Oh I know that’s too hard to ask for. We rather sit around and cry about light/dark skin.

    This Zoe Saldana stuff is stupid. What did you expect? Got a beach house I could sell you in Idaho…..

    I can’t with y’all.

  • CurlyBunnie

    “No where in any of those books, is Alex described as a black man w/a black wife!”
    I stand corrected, as someone let me know. But the sentiment still stands. Just needed a better example.

  • Gigi

    Wel, sir, I certainly have a problem with Terrence Howard playing Mandela!

  • open minded

    *Agreed*
    Thank you..

  • leelah

    brown skin black woman with black features isn’t seen as beautiful in hollywood. ever heard of barbie doll dipped in chocolate?

  • Midnight Rambler

    Riddle me this….So, yall would be cool with Latina actress Zoe Saldana in “White Face” and bad blonde wigs to play EVITA PERON? Both are Latina… How do you think the Argentinian community would respond to Zoe in racial drag, prosthetic nose…I mean she speaks Spanish and is Latina….Do you think Argentinians would be “cool with that”?

  • Pseudonym

    Mexicans were mad when Jennifer Lopez was chosen to play Selina, so my guess is “No way!”

  • http://www.gallimaufry.ws T.

    If there’s going to be a movie about Nina Simone’s romantic dealings, I would like to see one about Nina Simone’s long affair with the (married with children) Prime Minister of Barbados. That’s a movie I would watch (especially because I’m Barbadian). Apart from the whole casting brouhaha, I don’t understand why it’s necessary to make up stories, from whole cloth, about Nina Simone, when her actual real life was so damn interesting (and juicy).

  • Echi

    The letter writer here is asking us to look beyond the skin color of Zoe. He brings up additional reasons as to why this biopic was problematic from the jump. Again, Zoe’s makeup or not, the producer’s disregard for unearthing the REAL story of Nina Simone is enough to boycott the movie.

  • Mike

    You all talk as if you know Nina Simone and you don’t. Her complexion was not Wesley Snipes dark. Nina was BROWN skin with African features. Secondly, her daughter is lighter… noticeably lighter, than Zoe Saldana. So much so that I’m wondering if she’s biracial and the father was white. So to say that Nina wouldn’t have wanted Zoe to play her is a stretch.

    Who would have thought the greatest, soul singer, Aretha Franklin would have wanted and is practically begging Halle Berry to play her? Glad she’s alive so you all can’t deny that small fact.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    black folk just lazy, huh?

  • dirtychai

    Not b/c Terrence Howard is light-skinned, but because he’s just a bad actor.

  • dirtychai

    Yeah you need a better example. Nina Simone was a real person, with real issues. Alex Cross is a figment of James Patterson’s imagination.

  • African Mami

    I’m all talked out. My dollars will not support this biopic,or attempt of it. End of story.

  • dirtychai

    Nina Simone from Polk County, North Carolina was talent, consciousness, bravery and regal badassedness in the purest form. I wonder what her take would be on all this chatter about her skin tone when most of her fight went beyond her looks and was more to the fact that she’s a Black woman in America who’s speaking up for herself.

    I’m on the fence with Zoe Saldana’s portrayal of Nina. I respect that Nina was a dark-brown woman with full lips and a round face who faced scrutiny because her looks. However I’m not writing off Zoe Saldana’s ability to convey that onto the silver screen — even through dark makeup and that god-awful wig.

    I think a lot of people’s issue with Saldana playing this role is because folks question if she’s ever had to really deal with scrutiny in her own life due to her light skin and straight hair. My guess is that at some point in her years — yes she has. How can you live in America and not go through that?

    If she can make us feel who young Nina was beneath the surface, I’ll give her props. If she bombs…I’ll talk trash about her in the comments section of all my favorite blogs. For now I’ll just wait and see. But…

    …I still resent that wig.

  • Oh Please

    Her daughter has already stated that Nina wanted Whoopi Goldberg to play her. She felt that Whoopi’s physical appearance lead to her having some of the same experiences. So if she wanted Whoopi to play her for THAT reason why would she want Zoe playing her? Zoe is widely considered beautiful…..We all know what the black community considers Whoopi to be.

  • http://@clnmike Tonton Michel

    You may thank Ms. Mort for showing the world how dismiss an entire race.

  • D.T.

    Did I say that? Please just stick to eating fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables…..

  • Jen

    I remember that outcry. As well as the one surrounding Chinese actresses in Memoirs of a Geisha. You can’t conscript someone’s culture and racial identity and excuse yourself with artistic license.

  • Bobbi

    Mike, I think Nina’s daughter knows her own mama.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    This! At this point it is what it is, everyone stated everything that needed to be said but Hollywood is not listening. Just don’t support, show them better than you can tell them.

  • JJ

    And we’re tired of black people like you sitting out every issue, but then joining the bandwagon when it’s convenient

  • JJ

    Don’t think it’s so much about begging whites to tell our story as it is about discussing something that is absolutely ridiculous amongst ourselves. They’re gonna do their ridiculous movie, that has been made clear with these blackface photos circulating the internet

  • http://designsdelight.com art

    I am a jazz fan and really this movie will suck because you needed someone to shoot it who understood jazz, and there are many lead singers who could have done it.

    But they are figuring that jazz fans are not many, so they will reinvent her as a pop singer but we are giving them free publicity by talking about this movie.

    controversy sells, we should have ignored their foolishness.

  • francais

    okay i had to laugh out loud at the picture that mr. overfield put in my head of Nina Simone stomping into a Hollywood studio and slapping the painted on black off of folks!

    there’s too much going on in the world and in my life for me to get angry about this.

    but that said, the way cynthia mort is going about this movie just confuses me.

    why does she need to make a biographical movie about someone with no input from their family or their estate?

    if i was making a movie about someone’s deceased parent, brother, daughter etc., i think that common decency would behoove me to go about making that movie in a way that is respectful to their loved ones.

    who has time to go around needlessly offending people by mishandling the memory of someone they cared about deeply?

    also my understanding is that nina simone might not be a mainstream icon/household name in america.

    that said, the folks who are most likely to see a film about her life are black folks, black women in particular who view her as a dynamic historic figure and even role model.

    why upset the folks who are likely to be your crucial target demographic?

    and finally, i think part of the job of a film/film maker is create a world that the audience gets drawn into and lost in…part of doing that is asking them to suspend reality in some cases..

    this is my personal argument against choosing zoe saldana to play this role. wouldn’t it just be easier to hire a competent dark skinned actress with hair and features that more closely resemble nina?

    quite frankly zoe saldana’s appearance could take away from the believability of the story mort wants to tell.

    i mean with viola davis’ very recent oscar nomination and demonstrated acting ability, wouldn’t she have been a no-brainer?

    she could have drawn in the audiences of middle-aged white women who LOVED the help.

    and what about kimberly elise whose body of work shows that she can believably portray characters with depth?

    anywhoo, i think that instead of getting mad, we should take proactive action when it comes to the entertainment industry, we did once before with awkward black girl and that effort led to the rise not only of ABG but other web shows that adequately portray us.

    i’m sure there are atleast 20 other (black women) filmmakers, screeenwriters, and/or directors who could and want to tell Nina Simone’s story with all the integrity, passion, glamour, and levity it deserves.

    let’s find them and support them.

  • http://writeitout.wordpress.com Natsai

    You my friend need to read this man’s entire letter on nina’s site so that u may get comfy in several seats.

  • http://writeitout.wordpress.com Natsai

    I agree with you man but that’s not the problem here. We DO need to support our own endeavors and stop begging for acceptance but the issue here is when White Hollywood messes with one of our own’s story we HAVE to speak up about it. We could make our own Nina Simone biopic but realistically it would take years to just gain funding alone for a quality movie and distribution/promotion. So to know that there is a Nina biopic happening was great until I see ALL that time and effort wasted to make a mockery of an icon’s life. When biopics fail the first time you rarely see a quality second version, or even one at all. So this movie happening right here right now could be the only Nina biopic we’ll for a long LONG time, if ever. There is nothing wrong with protesting the white media. Sometimes it’s for the wrong reasons previously mentioned but in this cased its not.

  • Valerie

    I look at this whole thing & wonder…
    Who are they telling this “story” for?
    Is it so ppl can know Ms. Simone, or is it just to make a movie?
    Without the involvement of the family & the lack of attachment to the truth…
    When they say “based on”… we know it’s only circling her life.

  • ms_micia

    Only way to truly get through to folks is to not support it. period.

  • Vernon Butler

    Where does one begin? As a person who met Ms Simone when I was a teenager, in a meeting on CR funding for Dr King, before her music, was her commitment to the struggle of people of African decent in America. That is her legacy. Her commitment to live her life, on her terms has always been self evident. Her contemporaries, in the early years of the struggle, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Harry Belafonte, Dorthey Dandridge, Sydney Portier and many others, fought and suffered for their rights as actors, to demand integrity and truth in the roles they portrayed; and many refused to chase the money and acclaim being offered, even though they had a child on the way, or was homeless.

    When I studied acting in the 60s, in Chicago, I was told that an actor has an obligation to be aware of the importance of the images you portray. As people of African decent, in America, we were/are obliged to Own and Shepard the use of our likeness, our image, our-story vs their desire to capitalize on their history, of us.

    The shame is that no blacks in the bussieness, even thought to do the things necessary to hold the rights of Nina’s story and the stories of many others of our hidden and near forgotten heroes. This is a teachable moment. One that we, as a people have had countless times before, in my brief 62 years. This is H’wood/B’way at its best…make money at all cost…and we, desiring the myth of america…run, fight after, disparage and envy those that have the fame and spotlight. We hold in esteem, those that have achieved that platu, yet those that work that 9-5…garbage men, bus drivers, taxi drivers, cooks, clerks are given little respect in the here and now.

    The issue of Zoe? Is the same as if they could have hired Mike Duncan to play Richard Pryor. Casting NO one would believe. That is not an issue of Zoe…that is the issue of the writer/director. In this case, who never consulted the family, and has written a fanticy “bio-pic” that is all about herself. Understand that the writer/director is female, and though privileged and Anglo,…she knows the issues of female self image…though not from the perspective of Women of color. And though Zoe, as an actor has opted to do something I would have refused to do…as an actor I understand, though disagreeing with her choice…I understand, and do not blame her, if there is to be any blame, it is of my generation who bowed out for the money, and forgot to pass on the legacy that was/is the Black Arts Movement…that taught many to always respect your people as you respect your self. Anon Ashanti

    “We must lead children from images that promote ignorance, and celebrate that which leads to knowledge.” – Plato

  • Vernon Butler

    You are right on many fronts; but on an inability to fund a quality bio pic??got to remind you…40A/Mule is Spikes. OWN is the Oprah. Tyler P. has a production company also. We have the money, and that’s money with a capital M. We got distribution lines ask Ervin Johnson. We got agents up the wazoo ask Sean and Jay Z. And as a people, we have talent untapped. What we don’t have is UNITY! PURPOSE! and a sense of Collective Work and Responsibility.

    Like your flavor.

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