By now, we’ve all read at least one angry screed or open letter regarding the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone. But just when you thought the topic had been entirely exhausted, here comes Aaron Overfield, the website content manager of, with a scathing criticism of writer/director Cynthia Mort, an appeal to the public to put discussions of Saldana’s “blackness” behind them, and a “talk-to-the-hand” rebuke to anyone who espouses the “don’t judge/wait and see/shut up about it” stance on the casting issue.

Says Overfield:

The most frustrating people are the ones who imply everyone should just shut up and “wait and see” or “leave them alone.” That kind of attitude and oppression is not in the spirit of Nina Simone whatsoever. Quite the opposite. Nina was vocal, defiant, a warrior, an activist. She would not have simply shut up and sat down. She would’ve shown up at the studio with a shotgun to speak with Ms. Mort and slapped the makeup off Zoe. So let’s get that straight first. We’re going to talk about this and those of us with strong, impassioned opinions are going to express them.

He goes on to state that, though the film’s production can’t be stopped, its more problematic notions should continue to be highlighted. Among those is the “straightfacing” of an out gay male, Clifton Henderson, who has been previously reported to be written as Nina’s love interest in Mort’s script:

It is also the first instance of Cynthia’s script exploiting a marginalized identity by essentially putting “straightface” on an out gay man. This is rather curious since Mort herself is a lesbian and you’d wonder how she’d feel being rewritten as a heterosexual woman under the guise of someone else’s “artistic license.” Would Cynthia Mort be pleased with someone rewriting her own history to the point where her sexuality becomes a trivialized inconvenience? I guess someone would have to ask her that. I won’t bother.


Above all, Overfield takes umbrage with an issue that plagues many biopics, particularly black ones helmed by non-black writers and directors. The idea of buying the rights to someone’s life story, then altering it until it’s unrecognizable just because you can, is one that we should all find unsettling. Beyond casting Zoe Saldana, Cynthia Mort has show a blatant disregard for veracity, when it comes to being the first person to bring a version of Nina Simone’s life to the big screen. As Overfield reminds us, Mort hasn’t fact-checked, consulted Simone’s family, or shown any level of concern for respectfully rendering an icon’s lived experiences–and he believes one thing alone motivates that level of arrogance — privilege:

Cynthia Mort is not a black woman. That is a very crucial point here. I am a white man. I know that as a white man I do not have the authority to speak of the black experience because it is not my experience. I cannot and will not “speak” for black people or assume to know the intricacies of racism, as experienced by black people. The privilege and arrogance it takes to do so is disturbing and downright disgusting.

The entire open letter is certainly worth a read. In conversation with some of the other careful and thought-provoking write-ups on the issue, it leaves no stone of offense unturned.

Are you over the Nina biopic issue yet? Does this open letter re-fuel your anger? 

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  • You may thank Ms. Mort for showing the world how dismiss an entire race.

  • JJ

    And we’re tired of black people like you sitting out every issue, but then joining the bandwagon when it’s convenient

  • art

    I am a jazz fan and really this movie will suck because you needed someone to shoot it who understood jazz, and there are many lead singers who could have done it.

    But they are figuring that jazz fans are not many, so they will reinvent her as a pop singer but we are giving them free publicity by talking about this movie.

    controversy sells, we should have ignored their foolishness.

  • francais

    okay i had to laugh out loud at the picture that mr. overfield put in my head of Nina Simone stomping into a Hollywood studio and slapping the painted on black off of folks!

    there’s too much going on in the world and in my life for me to get angry about this.

    but that said, the way cynthia mort is going about this movie just confuses me.

    why does she need to make a biographical movie about someone with no input from their family or their estate?

    if i was making a movie about someone’s deceased parent, brother, daughter etc., i think that common decency would behoove me to go about making that movie in a way that is respectful to their loved ones.

    who has time to go around needlessly offending people by mishandling the memory of someone they cared about deeply?

    also my understanding is that nina simone might not be a mainstream icon/household name in america.

    that said, the folks who are most likely to see a film about her life are black folks, black women in particular who view her as a dynamic historic figure and even role model.

    why upset the folks who are likely to be your crucial target demographic?

    and finally, i think part of the job of a film/film maker is create a world that the audience gets drawn into and lost in…part of doing that is asking them to suspend reality in some cases..

    this is my personal argument against choosing zoe saldana to play this role. wouldn’t it just be easier to hire a competent dark skinned actress with hair and features that more closely resemble nina?

    quite frankly zoe saldana’s appearance could take away from the believability of the story mort wants to tell.

    i mean with viola davis’ very recent oscar nomination and demonstrated acting ability, wouldn’t she have been a no-brainer?

    she could have drawn in the audiences of middle-aged white women who LOVED the help.

    and what about kimberly elise whose body of work shows that she can believably portray characters with depth?

    anywhoo, i think that instead of getting mad, we should take proactive action when it comes to the entertainment industry, we did once before with awkward black girl and that effort led to the rise not only of ABG but other web shows that adequately portray us.

    i’m sure there are atleast 20 other (black women) filmmakers, screeenwriters, and/or directors who could and want to tell Nina Simone’s story with all the integrity, passion, glamour, and levity it deserves.

    let’s find them and support them.

  • Valerie

    I look at this whole thing & wonder…
    Who are they telling this “story” for?
    Is it so ppl can know Ms. Simone, or is it just to make a movie?
    Without the involvement of the family & the lack of attachment to the truth…
    When they say “based on”… we know it’s only circling her life.