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Zoe Saldana as ‘Nina’ is ‘painful,’ Simone’s family says

Zoe Saldana stars in an upcoming movie about

Zoe Saldana stars in an upcoming movie about legendary singer Nina Simone, "Nina." Credit: RLJ Entertainment

The family of the late singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone has again criticized Latina actress Zoe Saldana, who plays the title role in the upcoming film biography “Nina” with makeup to darken her skin and a prosthetic nose.

“Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful,” the family tweeted, following the release of the film’s trailer. “Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing. It shall pass, but for now....”

Saldana, 37, who starred in “Star Trek,” “Avatar” and “Guardians of the Galaxy, ” on Wednesday tweeted a Simone quote: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me- No Fear. . . . I mean really, no fear.” #NinaSimone.” The family, which has not sanctioned the film, responded, “Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”

BET founder Robert L. Johnson, chairman of the film’s distributor, RLJ Entertainment, said in a statement, “The most important thing is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on the basis of color, or ethnicity, or physical likeness. Quality entertainment should be measured by the sheer force of creativity and the commitment that an actor or actress brings to the performance.” He added that Saldana “gave her heart and soul to the role and displayed her extraordinary talent.”

Saldana — whose parents are Dominican and Puerto Rican, and whose background includes Haitian and Lebanese ancestry — was announced as the film’s star in August 2012. The next day, Simone’s daughter Lisa Celeste Stroud, the singer and Broadway star billed as simply Simone, wrote on Facebook that she admired Angela Bassett’s work as Tina Turner in that singer’s film biography. Without specifically criticizing Saldana, she said, “If written, funded and CAST PROPERLY a movie about my mother will make a lasting imprint.”

A week later Stroud, 53, told The Daily Beast (in a comment widely misreported to be from that Facebook post), “I love Zoe Saldana, we all love Zoe. From ‘Avatar’ to ‘Colombiana,’ I’ve seen those movies a few times. But not every project is for everybody. And I know what my mother would think.”

Saldana’s representative did not return a request for comment. In the July 2015 issue of InStyle magazine, she said she “didn’t think I was right for the part, and I know a lot of people will agree, but then again, I don’t think Elizabeth Taylor was right for Cleopatra either.” She added, “An artist is colorless, genderless . . . The truth is, they chose an artist who was willing to sacrifice herself.”

Simone’s 2012 Facebook post also criticized the movie’s depiction of a romantic relationship between Nina Simone and her assistant Clifton Henderson, played by David Oyelowo. “Clifton Henderson was gay,” Simone wrote. “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?”

The film is scheduled for release April 22.

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