A large contingent of the black internet were up in arms last night at the news that Zoe Saldana is now replacing Mary J. Blige in a much-discussed Nina Simone biopic. Really? Because Zoe’s known for her deep speaking and singing voices? Because she’s known for singing at all? Because she bears such uncanny physical resemblance to Simone? Okay…

Shadow and Act has confirmed the news, which began as a rumor. The film, which was slated to begin production last May, has been long-delayed — and there’s still no solid assurance that it will begin to shoot any time soon. The storyline will focus on Simone’s relationship with her manager, Clifton Henderson. The fabulous David Oyelowo is attached to that role. You’ll get no complaints from me on that one. But Zoe is even more questionable than Blige for this biopic, as Blige is, at least, a singer (though in order for either of them to really get to the core of Nina Simone’s voice, they would have to lip sync).

No one’s arguing that Zoe isn’t an appealing onscreen presence and a rapidly rising star. But most would agree that, if she remains attached to this particular film, she will be woefully miscast. Here are a few experienced actresses who’d more fully fit the bill:

1. Adepero Oduye
Tambay O. Obenson of Shadow and Act has been vocal about his preference for the young Pariah star in the role of Nina Simone. Oduye has certainly proven that she can carry a film. She has the commanding presence and sensitivity to play Nina and it would be great to see what she would do with a role this iconic.

2. Aisha Hinds
I love Aisha Hinds. I’ve loved her in pretty much every role I’ve watched her play. I’ve been patiently waiting for her to score that one breakout performance that will catapult her from guest appearances on television dramas to the silver screen big time. Playing Nina Simone would definitely provide her that boost.

3. N’Bushe Wright
I’m starting to think Wright may be semi-retired. According to IMDB, she was in a comedy last year, A Talent for Trouble. But before that, her last acting credit was in 2005. If she’s interested in a comeback, I’d love to see her agent throw her hat into the ring for this role.

4. Viola Davis
This is the obvious choice, really, if it’s a film that wants any Oscar nods. Davis’s career is red-hot right now, and it’s likely she doesn’t have time to squeeze this in (or that she doesn’t want to do another biopic right now, as she has at least one other in the works). But her speaking voice and her powerful onscreen presence make her a shoo-in for consideration.

5. India.Arie
Look. I know she’s not an actress and maybe she has next to no interest in acting. But as soon as they started talking about a Nina Simone biopic, I started thinking about India.Arie as an obvious contender. Her singing voice and her physical appearance make her a viable candidate.

What do you guys think? Can Zoe work in the role? Do you prefer any of our five picks? Would you like add your own?

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  • November

    I agree with those who understand this is about whitewashing and nothing else. No one would or should hire Drake to play James Brown in a biopic. There are plenty of talented dark-skinned actresses with natural hair that could have played the funk out of this role. I would not have selected a singer. The sistah who plays Michonne on Walking Dead would have been fierce!

  • Guess what folks? First: It’s not your business who he casts as Nina Simone. It’s not your film, you’re not spending the money and unless you are your opinion is just that. Opinion!!! Nothing is stopping you from digging in your pockets and telling the same story the way YOU want to tell it. Right??? I mean you DO have the money to make a film like this right?

    Next: Zoe Saldana played a blue skinned alien with a tale and a totally tribal/primitive social being so well she changed, forever my definition of sexy. She played a being with an incredible mix of both animal and human qualities and she acted da hell out of that role. That said, I have absolutely no doubt she will play Nina Simone with the same power. Even if she falls flat on her face, she will still do better than most because she is a REAL actress. Not a line reader on film. She will do her homework and she will do well.

    By the way, for you folks who don’t know, who are beating up on her because she is not black ENOUGH, let’s get down to your real feelings. This projection of that icky attitude all over a project that hasn’t happened yet, is nothing more than rank jealousy and inappropriate, mis-educated rancor at a woman who goes her own way, refuses to adopt the same tired “cultural” cliches that make insecure black men and women comfortable that she is “one of us”. And what that means to all fringe dwellers who can’t just be is—a. We get to be “all up in your business” when we should be tending our own. b. We have the right to pull you down and dog talk about you whenever you get out of line, as if we own you. Strange that a people so sensitive to being owned can’t help trying to own other people. That is the really indelible imprint of slavery on African American minds. That nasty group mind that belongs to crabs in a barrel. Get over it.