Nina Director's Explanation for Casting Zoe Saldana Will Make You Pause

Nina Director's Explanation for Casting Zoe Saldana Will Make You Pause

Cynthia Mort claps back at the backlash against the film.

Published April 18th

Nina, the biopic of Nina Simone starring Zoe Saldana as the legendary jazz singer, has been dragged every which way since the moment cameras started rolling. From Twitter backlash to behind-the-scenes power plays, the film seemed like a bad idea from the very start. Now, in an article for Buzzfeed aptly titled, "How Nina Became a Disaster Movie," the film's director, Cynthia Mort, finally breaks her silence on her film, which has people talking for all the wrong reasons.

Mort, who is estranged from the film's producers and at one point even wanted her name taken off of it, explains to the site why she decided to make the film and cast Zoe Saldana — a decision which seemed to kick-start the film's downward spiral — as the icon.

After Mary J. Blige dropped out of the project due to, according to Mort, scheduling conflicts, she suggested Saldana for the role. When producers paused at the thought of the Avatar star in the role, Mort said “put the looks aside,” and that what she needed from her Nina Simone was “the danger and the recklessness and the fierceness — all of those things.”

Apparently, she felt Zoe fit the bill.

“Certainly I would not have cast Zoe if I felt she was wrong for the role in a million years. Zoe’s amazing. She’s amazing in the movie,” Mort said. “She gave her all. She’s honest, she’s courageous, she’s fierce.”

She also says financing was a factor. As an independent production, she claims, the film needed a bold-faced name to sell, and that criteria greatly limits the options. “Go to those people,” Mort said about financiers and studio executives. “Take a look at their lists. And find out how many Black actresses are on their lists. Or how many women of a certain age are on those lists. Or how many women who look a certain way are on their lists. It’s really informative.”

Informative, and also reinforces the criticism that Nina Simone wouldn't have been able to be cast as herself in her own biopic by Hollywood standards, and that underscores the problem many people have with the film. 

Mort also comments on the backlash that ignited as soon as production on the film started, seemingly fueled by Simone's daughter Lisa Simone Kelly's Facebook rant about casting Saldana as her mother. "It was extreme," she says. “It pi**es me off on that level.” 

She says of the "blackface" criticism against the Saldana's makeup and prosthetics, “I understand the issue of race. And color is a sensitive issue. But at the same time, it is a movie. And it is an actor. And everyone is doing their best to find the truth in that.”

Amazingly, four years after the Nina controversy started, Twitter is still debating the film:

While they say all press is good press, this time, it doesn't seem to be true. But we'll know for sure when Nina hits selected theaters and VOD on April 22. 

Watch our exclusive interview with Zoe Saldana sharing her thoughts on the Nina controversy, below:

Written by Evelyn Diaz

(Photo: Coqueran/FAMEF)

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