Many Think She Doesn't Look Like Nina Simone

Controversy is stirring over whether Zoe Saldana looks enough like Nina Simone to play her in the upcoming biographical film Nina. Those upset over the casting choice have started an online petition to have the actress removed from the part.

Zoe Saldana

Nina Simone was an important force in the world of music during the civil rights struggle in America, but the upcoming film about her life is causing controversy even though it hasn't started filming yet. The controversy isn't over the singer herself — it stems from a rumor about the actress chosen to play her.

"The online media world has been abuzz with criticism for nearly a month now over the news ... that the actress Zoe Saldana would be cast as the singer Nina Simone in the forthcoming film Nina, based on her life," said Tanzina Vega with The New York Times.

But the controversy isn't over whether or not Saldana is right for the part. It's about the color of Saldana's skin — specifically, the lightness of her skin.

"Hollywood and the media have a tendency to whitewash and lightwash a lot of stories, particularly when black actresses are concerned," said Tiffani Jones, founder of the blog Coffee Rhetoric, according to Vega. "When is it going to be OK to not be the delicate-looking ideal of what the media considers blackness to be?"

Jones posted a petition on the morning of Sept. 12, and by the evening, it had 2,100 signatures. According to Vega, the petition asks for writer and director Cynthia Mort and executive producer Jimmy Iovine to "replace Zoe Saldana with an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone."

Saldana has not responded to the request or the petition, but the Internet Movie Database still has her listed as the lead in the movie. The actress also has some huge films in the works. She is scheduled to reprise two of her most popular roles in the sequels to Star Trek and Avatar. Star Trek Into Darkness is in postproduction and is set to be out next year, and Avatar 2 has been announced but Saldana has not yet been confirmed.

Photo courtesy Nikki Nelson /


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Comments on "Zoe Saldana casting choice prompts petition"

Hello March 26, 2013 | 9:55 PM

To me it is not so much about the color of her skin. But just her attitude. I think she has spent so much time trying to be excepted by whites, that she sorta goes against what many believe Nina stood for. And that was equality but also being proud on one's blackness. To me Zoe tries to be white. She tries to speak in a white dialect. She wears her hair a certain way. She dates a certain type of man. I am not saying that is wrong. But if you are going to have her as the poster girl for a black and proud woman like Nina Simone that could create controversy. Do I think she is not right for the role itself? No, that is what good acting is all about. Being able to become a totally different person than yourself. You ain't got to be born looking and acting like the character. You become the character.

Gill Avila September 13, 2012 | 2:45 AM

The complainants are right. Zoe Saldana is too light and too beautiful for thee part.

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