Nina Simone's brother blasts biopic, casting of Zoe Saldana

This studio portrait shows American pianist and jazz This studio portrait shows American pianist and jazz singer Nina Simone reclining on the floor circa 1968. Simone, whose deep, raspy voice made her a unique jazz figure and later helped chronicle the civil rights movement, died in her sleep on April 21, 2003, of natural causes after a long illness. She was 70. Photo Credit: Getty Images

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A brother of the late songstress Nina Simone is furious with an upcoming biopic about her, slamming its content and the casting of “Avatar” star Zoe Saldana, who’s linked to the title role.

Nyack musician Sam Waymon, one of Simone’s five siblings, held a press conference at 2 p.m. at the Nyack Village Theatre on Main Street to protest what he says is “Hollywood’s inaccurate portrayal and misguided casting of his sister.”

Before the news conference, Waymon told Newsday Westchester that he was“appalled and upset” that Saldana was cast in the role of his sister.

“If [writer/director Cynthia Mort] is going to cast a film about Nina, at least give the woman some justice, and someone that more resembles her. So at least the public can be transferred into the experience of watching a Nina Simone movie by visually looking at someone who resembles her.”

Simone, a jazz and soul legend whose greatest hits include “Feeling Good” and her cover of “I Loves You Porgy” from “Porgy and Bess,” is also well-known for her activism during the civil rights movement. She was 70 when she died in 2003.

Saldana, whose recent movie credits include “The Words,” “Avatar” and the “Star Trek” reboot, is attached to the title role of the movie with a working title of “Nina.” Production on the film is slated to begin in October. Her publicist was not immediately available for comment.

Waymon has emphasized that his issue is not with Saldana, whom he admires, but with the casting decision. And he isn't alone. One online petition is calling for the film to “Replace Zoe Saldana with an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone.” As of Wednesday afternoon, that petition had compiled more than 8,200 signatures.

In addition to the casting of Saldana, Waymon is also unhappy with the movie featuring a composite character of Simone’s love interest, based on her manager and caretaker, Cliff Henderson. Her family members firmly deny that the two had any romantic involvement. But beyond their lack of romantic involvement, Waymon also takes issue with the film’s depiction of Henderson.

“Cliff Henderson was a wonderful person and honest man and good at what he does. [He was] a very thoughtful manager and caretaker and Nina respected that. And why would you want to mess with that?”

This isn’t the first time Waymon has bristled about the prospect of the Simone biopic — or its casting. Two years ago, when singer and Yonkers native Mary J. Blige was expected to play Simone in the movie, Waymon expressed reluctance about the script and her participation. Blige later bowed out of the commitment.

Waymon revealed that at one time his sister would have liked to see Whoopi Goldberg play her on screen.

“They have similar facial features,” he said, “characteristics that African-American women could relate to."

With Kirthana Ramisetti

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