Zoe Saldana’s upcoming Nina Simone biopic, Nina, has been shrouded in controversy since the beginning. When the Dominican actress was announced as the lead, Simone fans, which included her daughter, revolted, accusing producers of trying to “whitewash” the High Priestess of Soul’s story. Many questioned whether Saldana should play Simone given their difference in appearance, and the criticism only grew louder when pictures of Saldana in full makeup—prosthetic nose, darker skin, afro wig—surfaced online.
Casting hullabaloo aside, the film also came under fire for its handling of the musician’s story. Although producers are billing it as a “love story” between Simone and her assistant Clifton Henderson, Simone’s daughter penned a scathing open letter lambasting the script and setting the record straight about her mother’s relationship with Henderson.
“Please note, this project is unauthorized. The Nina Simone Estate was never asked permission nor invited to participate,” the singer’s daughter Simone, wrote in an open letter. “MY VISION. The whole arc of her life which is inspirational, educational, entertaining and downright shocking at times is what needs to be told THE RIGHT WAY.”
Simone added: “By the way: Clifton Henderson was gay. He was not attracted to women. So, the truth is…Nina Simone and Clifton Henderson NEVER had a relationship other than a business one. Please correct me, but isn’t a biopic the story of one’s life?”
Apparently, Simone’s fans and family aren’t the only one with qualms about the story. While Nina’s producers are gearing up for its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in France and shopping for a distributer, the biopic’s director has filed a lawsuit claiming Ealing Studios Enterprises Limited cut her out of the decision-making process.
Cynthia Mort, who wrote and directed the film as well as defended the decision to cast Saldana, is claiming producers took “complete control of editing the Film in June 2013 and [failed] to consult with Mort about subsequent cuts and changes.” Mort also alleges producers “[failed] to keep [her] informed of other crucial creative and budgetary developments and decisions throughout production and post-production of the Film.”
With all of the drama surrounding the film it’s hard to imagine how it can overcome the negative press to be a box office hit. Despite this, Saldana says she’s proud of her work on the film.
“The reality is what keeps me focused and what kept me from I guess getting stressed or being hurt by the comments is that I’m doing it for my sisters,” she told Hip Hollywood last year. “I’m doing it for my brothers. I don’t care who tells me that I am not this and I am not that. I know who I am and I know what Nina Simone means to me. So that is my truth and that set me free.“
Will you see Nina when it makes it to theaters?