India Arie Goes OFF About Zoe Saldana Playing Nina Simone

Posted On : March 12, 2016

indie arie and ninan and zoe saldana

“I Am Not My Hair” singer/hit maker/realist, India Arie, has once again joined the the many people- celebrities and civilians alike- who think that casting Hispanic actress, Zoe Saldana, as Nina Simone made absolutely not one ounce of sense and a few days ago, India voices her frustration and confusion about why the producers of Nina Simone’s upcoming autobiographical film decided to go to such extreme lengthhs of having to darken Saldana’s skin and put a prosthetic nose on her, just to make her more believable as Nina.

Nina Simone (L); Zoe Saldana in makeup for her portrayal of Nina Simone in new film (R)
Nina Simone (L); Zoe Saldana in makeup for her portrayal of Nina Simone in new film (R)

When asked what she thought about the physical portrayal of the great Nina Simone in the film here is what India said:

“It made me sad. The way she looked in the movie was ugly. Whether or not Nina Simone was beautiful in your eyes, I thought she was beautiful. But in this movie, she just looked weird. Her skin looked weird, and her nose looked weird. It made me wonder, ‘Was that how the filmmakers see her? Did they not think she was beautiful? Were they like, ‘Yeah, we got it! That’s how she looked.”

“It’s not my place to say how Zoe Saldana perceives herself, and I can’t say how anybody else perceives her, either. I see her as a black person of Hispanic origin, but I don’t even know what that really means, because I don’t know anything about race and Hispanic culture.


Nina Simone
Nina Simone

India also voiced her confusion over why the producers would cast someone who looks completely different from the beautiful African features that Nina Simone was so proud of and fought hard to celebrate and embrace through her art:

“Nina Simone sacrificed so much to be as bold as she was about being black and about being female in an era where that could have cost her life. She was denied access to a conservatory not because she didn’t play great, but because she was black. She would have had a different career if she looked like Lena Horne or Dorothy Dandridge. She could have been the first black female concert pianist, world-famous. When you look a certain way you get certain privileges; when you look another way you’re denied access to certain things, especially in her era.

So in the context of the politics of race in America and the politics of race in the entertainment industry in America, to make a movie about a person like that and cast an actress that has to wear blackface and a prosthetic nose is tone-deaf. To propagate that institutionalized racism that is historical in Hollywood in a movie about her is ironic in the worst possible way.”

india arie now2India Arie reveals which actresses she thinks would have been better for the role of Nina Simone:

“If I was going to pick someone I know, I would choose Adepero Oduye [a Sundance breakout for 2011’s Pariah, most recently of The Big Short] because of her acting chops and her facial features.

Adepero Oduye
Adepero Oduye

But also, wouldn’t it be cool if somebody just came out of nowhere, like a stage actress or how Lupita Nyong’o just came out of nowhere? Somebody who’s amazing and ethnic and really beautiful and had chops, and then she did this movie and had a chance to elevate her craft the way that Nina Simone did? That to me would capture her essence. To see someone else have that opportunity because she paved that road, that to me would be inspirational.”

Lupita Nyong'o
Lupita Nyong’o

India Arie made some excellent points and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t confused when I first found out Zoe Saldana was cast as Nina Simone. This is no diss to Zoe, because it’s not that she doesn’t have the skills to play her, it’s just confusing as to why the filmmakers would go to such great lengths to make Zoe work for the role, when they could have easily just cast someone else who is just as good as her and saved themselves half the work. One of the reasons may be because they knew that we’d all be doing exactly what we’re doing now- discussing it on public, online platforms and adding even more hype around the anticipation of the film. Smart move…I suppose, but they better hope that their financial profit matches that hype once it’s all said and done.