The hits keep coming for Zoe Saldana and her upcoming Nina Simone biopic Nina. While the film has encountered fierce criticism since the beginning, RLJ Entertainment owner Bob Johnson’s recent assertion that Black folks are just hating on Saldana have seemed to anger even more people. This time, Jeff L. Lieberman, director of the documentary The Amazing Nina Simone, decided to explain why he isn’t feeling the film.
In a piece for the Hollywood Reporter, Lieberman assure Johnson that absolutely nobody–white or Black–wants to see his company’s film.
Robert Johnson’s defense of his film Nina was not only insulting, it was 100% wrong. As someone who has intensely studied Nina Simone for the past five years and recently released a documentary about her life and legacy based on interviews with over 50 of her friends, band members, family, lovers and fellow activists, I am saddened by the ugly and inaccurate portrayal contained in the script and trailer of Nina and by Mr. Johnson’s desperate attempt to defend the project.
One of Lieberman’s main beefs? He thinks actors should “disappear in a role so the audience is only focused on the subject,” something that is impossible do with in Nina because of Saldana’s outrageous makeup in the film.
The creators of Nina had the option to say, “Zoe Saldana is the best actor for the role and we believe in color-blind casting, and even though Nina Simone fought her whole life against being ‘too black,’ we still feel Ms. Saldana will embody Nina Simone beyond the physical.” They did not do that. Recognizing and admitting themselves that she did not look the part and was not going to disappear into the role, they dressed her up (poorly) in blackface makeup and prosthetics, ignoring the horrible history of this type of portrayal.
Though Lieberman is appalled by Saldana’s outlandish look in the film, his main criticism of the project is that it chooses to focus on the waning parts of Simone’s life–during the 1990s–while ignoring most of her accomplishments.
Ms. Simone had six other decades of phenomenal musical accomplishments and civil rights stands, and she became an international symbol of freedom, pride and artistry. To overlook this is not only an insult to Ms. Simone’s very rich and complex life, but a blatant white-washing of her achievements as a black woman in 20th century America.
Lieberman concludes that while “ignoring Black American women’s accomplishments is not new,” Saldana’s film doesn’t feel like a proper tribute to the legendary musician, but rather “a desire for pure sensationalism at the cost of everything Nina Simone fought so tirelessly for.”
Read the entire op-ed over on The Hollywood Reporter.