Zoe Saldana’s friend: Zoe’s ‘proud’ of the ‘Nina’ film & ‘Zoe’s not a white girl’


As I said several times in the past week, I do believe Zoe Saldana deserves some (not all, but some) clapback for the disaster that is Nina, the falsified, fictional account of Nina Simone’s comeback. There were so many different points where Saldana could have said “no” or made some choices to mitigate the disaster. Like, there is absolutely no reason for the severe and offensive blackface. There was also no reason for Saldana to even say yes to the part in the first place. But now that the film is being released (after sitting on a shelf for years), and all of the controversy is blowing up, someone in Team Saldana wants you to know that Zoe is “proud” of the film. Because… sure, I guess. I mean, what else is she going to say?

Zoe Saldana isn’t surprised that people are criticizing her for her physical portrayal of Nina Simone in upcoming biopic “Nina.” A friend of the actress’ tells Page Six she “kind of expected” the backlash because she remembers how the public reacted when photos of her in blackface and a prosthetic nose from the set surfaced in 2012.

“This started three years ago. They actually thought the project was shelved, but it’s coming out and she’s proud of it,” said the source. “There’s always controversy [over] ‘is she Latin or isn’t she Latin,’ so she’s used to that, but this is different for her.”

Simone’s estate and others have expressed outrage over the casting, preferring a dark-skinned actress instead of Saldana, who is Dominican and Puerto Rican.

“Zoe’s not a white girl. It’s kind of upsetting that people are acting the way they are before seeing the final product. She loves Nina Simone and this role was a labor of love for her,” our source said. Saldana has not responded to the controversy, but her pal says, “She loves the film and she’s too busy to focus on the negative with all of her other projects coming up.”

[From Page Six]

This controversy won’t end her career or anything, but it’s going to be an embarrassing and likely offensive few months as Zoe honors her promotional contract and has to start shilling for this film. Do you think journalists will really go in on Zoe? Probably. And while Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa thinks Zoe is being attacked “viciously,” Nina Simone’s brother Sam Waymon thinks Zoe does deserve some shade. He told Page Six:

“If I was asked to play someone of the monumental stature of Nina Simone, I would’ve had to think a thousand times before saying yes… Nina Simone . . . didn’t have a fake nose or fake lips. Everything about her was real. Why would you go with something made up like that? Blackface was used by Hollywood early on to dehumanize and to not have to cast [blacks] . . . I would have thought more highly of [Saldana] if she would’ve turned down the role.”

Waymon, 71, also says Saldana and the film’s director, Cynthia Mort, never consulted the family. He adds the movie falsely depicts a romantic affair between Simone and her assistant Clifton Henderson, played by David Oyelowo.

“It never happened,” Waymon said. “Clifton was a gay man. In addition to a prosthetic nose and blackface, now they’re making a gay man straight. It’s a disgrace to the gay community. It’s disrespectful to Nina, who was about the truth.”

Waymon’s lawyer, Alicia Crowe, said the family might pursue legal action. “That’s certainly a conversation that will be had with the family and estate, but we haven’t seen the film,” she said.

[From Page Six]

Wow, blackface and hetero-washing a gay man. You just hit the controversy lottery, Cynthia Mort! I know I’ve had days to process this, but I still don’t understand how putting Zoe in blackface was somehow preferable to just having her play the role without the fake nose and makeup. Like, of course there would have been a controversy either way, but I just don’t believe “putting a woman in blackface” is ever going to be the less controversial choice.


Photos courtesy of Fame/Flynet.

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45 Responses to “Zoe Saldana’s friend: Zoe’s ‘proud’ of the ‘Nina’ film & ‘Zoe’s not a white girl’”

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  1. Cynthia says:

    I love how it’s become “poor Zoe persecuted for being Afro-Latina”. I agree with what Nina’s brother said, and as much as Zoe would have still been a controversial choice, putting her without dark make up and fake nose would have been less offensive.

    • Saks says:

      The casting of Zoe was wrong for many factors, but I do think Zoe being Latina has heated a lot this issue. I can’t help but wonder if another light black actress (but non Latina) I’m thinking someone like Gugu Mbatha-Raw whom also would need a darker tone and prostetics, would have gotten the same amount of hate. Especially because I’ve read comments like “Zoe is not black she is Latina”

  2. INeedANap says:

    I’m disappointed in her for taking the part but she IS a black woman, I’m not sure why that’s up for contention.

    I’m REALLY disappointed in David Oyelowo who should effing know better. How do you go from the seeing the struggles of Ava Duvernay, and portraying the struggles of Dr. King, to this nonsense?

    • Bridget says:

      This was probably made before Selma.

    • Scal says:

      This was made before Selma got filmed (this was in 2012)-so I could see him thinking this was a big prestige picture early in his career. I think if this was cast today he’d turn it down

    • Alex says:

      He SHOULD know better but to be fair this is pre-Selma

    • censored says:

      Actually this is consistent with my expectations from David.
      He was in the movie “Red Tails “about the historic all black Tuskegee airmen .Now the inclusion of women whether it be back story/flashbacks/leaving on the train scenes etc. is standard plot device for Most War Movies i.e Private Ryan, Pearl Harbor etc as it helps humanize the soldiers as we see them as sons, brothers husbands etc but not so for Red Tails, in which NOT ONE Black women was in a single frame or even mentioned.
      During promos, David not only defended the erasure of Black women but wholly supported the fabrication of a fictional romance with a White Woman which all the surviving Tuskegee airmen objected to & said didnt happen (they all had black wives) .David went as far to say and I quote ” White women represent progress and freedom ” the interview videos were since taken offline

      There are so many layers of irony and pain with this project as oftentimes Black Men pro-blackness does not extend to Black Women and especially women who looked like Nina, The same type of people who would trample over her and reject her in favour of the Zoes of the world are still doing so even her death

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

        Thank you for sharing this, I didn’t know that about the film or the defense of a white romantic interest.

      • AlmondJoy says:

        Oh wow. I didn’t know this about him. I remember his love interest in the film but I assumed had it was part of what actually happened. Thanks for sharing.

  3. teatimeiscoming says:

    it’s still a member of one group using make-up and props to “dress up” like a member of another group. it’s still wrong. her not being “a white girl” doesn’t make it better.

    The director still should have cast an actress with the “look” they were using props to achieve.

    • Wentworth Miller says:

      “…her not being “a white girl” doesn’t make it better.” You are so correct in making this comment.
      A few years ago, Zoe made a comment (I don’t remember exactly what she said but the interview is out there.) distancing herself from being black and all of a sudden, here she is all loud n proud. Pfff. Whatever, Zoe.

    • OGBklynGirl says:

      It’s not blackface if the person is actually black, as Zoe has self identified several times in the past. http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Entertainment/defense-zoe-saldana-nina-simone/story?id=17593889 Don’t see it as being any different from Steve Carrell wearing a fake nose in Foxcatcher. What will be interesting is if this backlash results in low box office numbers. Then instead of black, female driven biopics ;Hollywood will have another excuse to keep it business as usual. (Maid stories told through a white narrative- ‘The Help.)

  4. Miran says:

    No one ever said she was a white girl, its just problematic that they chose to put her in blackface and prosthetics, she couldve done it without that stuff even if she wasnt a spot on resemblance.

    • Sarah(too) says:

      Exactly. It’s called acting for a reason. You act like the person. You don’t have to look exactly like the person. I blame Zoe too because at some point when they were caking on the blackface (and black body), she should have and could have said something. At some point, did not one person say “You know what? Blackface is going to get us in trouble here.”

    • Pinky says:

      Nicole Kidmam won an Oscar for her prosthetic. Saldana shares the same heritage as black Americans through both her Dominican and Puerto Rican roots.

      So what’s the true issue here? For me, it’s the blackface and Hollywood’s systemic history of choosing the actress with acceptable European features to play the part rather than finding the even better actress who’s less Hollywood/European conventional in her beauty to give a more authentic, progressive portrayal. And the act that darkening this actress, Saldana, and giving her a wider nose makes her “uglier.” That’s where the line is crossed. That and turning a gay man straight–what kind of pray-the-gay-away sexuality shaming is that?!


      • MrsNix says:

        Quote: “Hollywood’s systemic history of choosing the actress with acceptable European features to play the part rather than finding the even better actress who’s less Hollywood/European conventional in her beauty to give a more authentic, progressive portrayal.”

        This. Best response I’ve seen.

  5. grabbyhands says:

    I mean, yeah-at this point it isn’t like she is just going to stand up and say “You know, what? You’re right-I shouldn’t have taken the role and no one should see this movie because it is a travesty”. Regardless of how she feels, she is contractually obligated to promote the movie.

    I have a feeling that once the movie comes out and bombs and a little time has passed, she’ll go on a sob story tour about how she had reservations about the role but couldn’t express them, or tried to and was rebuffed, and that she feels so bad about the portrayal, yadda, yadda yadda. Completely forgetting how disrespectful she was about anyone (including Nina’s family) disagreeing with her casting.

    Or who knows, maybe it will be the middle finger all the way down the line and interviews about how we all just didn’t “get it”.

  6. hey-ya says:

    …Simone was a very talented niche singer with attitude of ‘ monumental stature’ to her fans only…exactly the sort of role to soothe an actress who wants to ‘act’…I knew Simone for one track only & I dont think she particularly enjoyed having to work when she did…but who am I to say…the amazing thing is I think Zoe is also amazingly talented & driven…I hope the role gets her some traction on the arts circuits…anyway A+ for effort…

    • Loo says:

      Zoe Saldana was never even in the top ten best choices for the role. I like Saldana in the Star Trek films and even Avatar but she is a lightweight actress. Saldana is rarely the best choice for any role if I’m being honest.

      The big awards bodies are not going to get into this mess, she will not get any real awards nominations. What will happen is the film will come out, get mediocre to bad reviews and then flop. After that Saldana is going to go back to sci fi blockbuster land with her tail between her legs just like other Marvel actors who keep reaching for that brass Golden Globe/Oscar ring.

  7. Cici says:

    Zoe is completely miscast in this role. You’ll get no argument from me on that point, but I think saying that she is in blackface is a bit harsh, because she is an Afro-Latina. She’s never shied away from that. If I didn’t know who she was and saw on the street, I’d think that she was a light skinned black woman. However physically from her complexion and build she was completely the wrong choice and she should have walked away from the part. As an actress though I understand her desire to play Nina, because she was a brilliant and complex artist and those roles are so few and far between for WOC in Hollywood. This whole project was a very wrongheaded approach to an amazing artist that’s the real shame in all this.
    ***I’ll take my slings and arrows now.

    • ab says:

      I agree with you! I also think she was the wrong choice, not only looks-wise, but just watching the trailer I didn’t realize the movie seems to take place when Nina was older. So it seems Zoe is too young for the part, and they should have cast an older actress. But I don’t fault her for turning away, like you say this was the type of meaty role that doesn’t come along often and it was probably sold to her as a star-making Oscar-bait kind of thing.

      • Cici says:

        Oh yes that was the other thing that bugged me was that she seemed too young also. Judging from the trailer they were covering Nina’s life, when she was maybe in her late 40s/early 50s. There were so many other actresses that would have been more age and physically appropriate for this film. This is such a wasted opportunity.

      • VirgiliaCoriolanus says:

        That’s what I was confused about. She looks like she’s in her early thirties in the film. But then I got the impression that she was supposed to be like in her fifties, given that she was supposedly a “has been”……

  8. Maum says:

    Sad thing is that even with the blackface and the prosthetic she still doesn’t look anything like Nina Simone.
    Why did they bother?

    • ichsi says:

      That’s what I keep thinking. Joaquin Phoenix did look nothing like Johnny Cash, Walk the Line still was a good and entertaining movie. They didn’t have to put him in stilts for that or give him prosthetics. As for Zoe’s casting: starpower is a thing in Hollywood and Zoe is one of the most famous and financially successful black actresses. So by that logic it was a good thing to hire her in the role of one of the most famous black singers. Only by that logic though, probably. I don’t doubt that Zoe acted her heart out in this but it’s so SO sad that apparently no one thought about the avoidable unfortunate implications. On the other hand I’m glad that this is talked about a little more. Yes, as an Afro Latina Zoes is also black, yes as a light skinned Afro Latina looking closer to caucasian beauty standards, she maybe had an easier time getting where she is now than she would have had if she’d been a few skintones darker and had more prominent African features. Yes I wish Hollywood was more diverse and there was a bigger pool of successful actresses who looked closer to what Simone looked like.

      • V4Real says:

        And Angela Bassett looked nothing like Tina Turner but she did an amazing job In “What’s Love Got To Do With It.”

  9. Squiggisbig says:

    The whole “not a white girl” thing seems like an obvious red herring. I don’t think anyone has contented at any point that she isn’t a person of color. However, are we supposed to just pretend that colorism isn’t a thing? At the end of the day Zoe did this role for Zoe. She undoubtedly want a chance at some Oscar shine and thought this was a great opportunity for that and just thought “fuck it!” When it became clear the choice was offensive. I also find it interesting to compare her behavior and zendaya’s. Zendaya got some backlash for being a biracial woman cast as Aaliyah and dropped out of the project when she better understood why people were offended.

  10. The Eternal Side-Eye says:

    We all can see she’s not a white girl, doesn’t change the fact shes benefitting from the same whitewashing system that hurts minorities.

    The facts are that there is a divide between lighter skin and darker skinned blacks. Lighter skinned blacks have been considered favorable to look at and be around since the time of slavery, darker skinned blacks were treated like animals to abuse endlessly. The times have changed and the circumstances are different but the issue REMAINS THE SAME.

    Darker skinned blacks aren’t appreciated. They arent given equal opportunity. They do often lose their jobs to lighter skinned blacks or worse yet have their portrayals lightened significantly because Hollywood hires actresses three shades lighter than the women they’re portraying. Hollywood doesn’t want to see darker skinned women happy or successful or anything other than a slave or some poor abused ghetto kid. When there is a film where the character’s skin tone is inarguably tied to her life story they STILL choose a lighter skinned black woman and then use blackface because hey, close enough right?

    Zoe wasn’t born yesterday. She’s got eyes and anyone with eyes knows the deal in Hollywood. There’s 50 ‘Zoe’s’ to every 5 ‘Viola’s and that has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with the brown paper bag test.

    The woman isn’t stupid and all her protests sound the same. She knows exactly why she’s getting heat and this mistake is hers, may it be a rough few months for her.

    • PK says:

      What a bizarre thing to say, “she’s not a white girl.” Just…what? What on earth were they thinking? Because as you’ve so ably pointed out (great post, BTW), that just makes it all kinds of WORSE.

      So what are they saying, it’s not blackface? It’s more like … blackER face? That’s more offensive, not less. Whatever their intentions, the fact remains that someone decided Saldana wasn’t black “enough” to convincingly play the part.

      I’m reminded of the ridiculous rationalizations Angelina Jolie’s camp made a few years ago when she insisted on playing Marianne Pearl in blackface and a curly afro wig. We heard the “labor of love” argument then too. I think some people need to have it explained to them, the difference between “labor of love” and “vanity project.”

      My personal favorite is the “well, without this much more famous (palatable) and powerful (whiter) actor on board, the project never would’ve gotten made” excuse. I’m sure we’ll be hearing some version of that one in 5…4…3…

      • lskfjsld says:

        Well okay I think any woman would be thrilled to have Angelina jolie play them. Angelina Jolie still looked like herself. It didn’t really feel like they were doing black face it was so well done. This Zoe Saldana thing is another debacle in my opinion. It really looks like they put shoe shine on her face. It to me also seems to be making fun of darker features which is crazy. Look at Lupita’s skin. She has the most luminous skin and looks much better than Zoe’s lighter skin.

      • PK says:

        Blackface is blackface, regardless of shading.

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

        Well said PK

    • Original T.C. says:

      @The Eternal side-eye


  11. Alex says:

    Um we KNOW she’s not a white girl Team Saldana if you listened to the criticism YEARS ago you wouldn’t have this problem.

    The problem is the blackface. If you were acting Nina’s spirit and mannerisms why the offensive makeup?
    The problem is colorism. A major issue in the AA community to this day and something Nina dealt with herself. Her WHOLE career was about how she looked (and embraced said look) even when people felt she wasn’t pretty enough
    The problem is her family. The one you didn’t consult and clearly changed parts of the story (to an offensive degree) and they had issues with this movie from the jump. There has not been a moment when this family was okay with this movie
    The problem is an all white film team. How in the world did they think they could make a good movie about a black icon without knowing her history and struggle? Well they didn’t think because they just care about the bottom line. This is why we need to create our own stories to avoid this mess

  12. Tara says:

    She should have never done the part. Casting is everything for this and simply casting a more appropriate actress would have made this not such a monumental disaster. Zoe Saldana can love Nina Simone all she wants. I love David Bowie, but that doesn’t mean I’m right to play him in a film. This was a vanity project for Zoe that failed. The make up alone is awful and makes the film an instant fail. There is a long list of black actresses who could have played Nina Simone and are much better at acting. They may not be as famous as Saldana but hey films are being made about James Brown and Martin Luther King lately starring not so famous actors.

  13. Hally says:

    I’m not going to touch on the controversy but can I take a moment to be shallow and say I love those outfits?

  14. sauvage says:

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with the prosthetic nose and dark make-up, to me, that’s just like Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose as Virginia Woolf, BUT: I’m white. And all the empathy in the world is not going to make up for actually BEING black, and experiencing racism in all its shitty forms on a daily basis. Since there has been such outrage over Zoe Saldana’s dark make-up, there’s obviously something there that i don’t get, so I better shut up.

    What I am sure I DO GET, is how disrespectful on so many levels it is to turn a gay man into a straight man, and on top of that, invent an affair, for the sake of – what? Narrative? Nina Simone’s actual life was not interesting enough, so you have to make stuff up? Whiskey Tango Foxtrott, much?

    • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

      Because you do seem like an individual who’s open to understanding I just want to explain why this issue isn’t equivalent to say Virginia Woolf or other instances where a celebrity is transformed for a role.

      In a perfect world we’d start with an industry that treats all potential actors and actresses fairly. Young, old, any ethnicity, age and etc. would be given an array of roles and representation. That would just be normal. But unfortunately we’re dealing with an industry that skews aggressively white, male then female, and young (although with men this rule hardly applies). Sexism is rampant and racism is expected. So when you take that into account you see an industry that for many job opportunities basically says “White Only” without explicitly doing so.

      Brown hair, freckles, tanned skin doesn’t really have a class issue in our country or Hollywood. Putting them on or taking them off doesn’t really contribute to that ‘Whites Only’ system. When it does come to minorities the closer to white the better your chance for success. If you can fit into a cliche or stereotype (Italian mobsters, Black Gang Members, Indian Convenience Store Worker and etc.) then you’ll probably get a background gig at least. Trying to imitate the natural appearance of a group of people that are underrepresented and respected only supports the system that hurts them. Even if you’re black. Putting on a brown wig or a prosthetic nose doesn’t really hurt a whole class of people like blackface does (or brown face in the case of Native Americans/Indians).

      • sauvage says:

        Thank you so much for taking the time to explain it to me. I think now I understand: So, this is to be seen as a symptom, as just another example of a huge f*uck-up of a system that hinders minorities without ever declaring itself as doing just that. I now also understand the level of anger, since this is far from being a single case. I’ll do some further thinking, thank you, Eternal Side-Eye! I really appreciate that you took the time to open this mental door for me.

  15. lucky says:

    And the negativity continues.

  16. Emily C. says:

    So, not only the skin darkening and prosthetic nose, not only turning a gay man into a straight man, but also inserting a romance that did not happen. Why? Because in Hollywood, the only way a woman and man can relate to each other and have a close relationship is through romance?

    This is a total trainwreck from beginning to end. I wonder what else the movie will mess up — you know that if it gets all these things so wrong, there are going to be others.

    (Btw, one movie I’d love to see is about the friendship between Simone and the playwright Lorraine Hansberry. That would be fascinating.)