- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Actress Zoe Saldana fired back at critics in a recent interview after nearly five years of racial backlash over her unauthorized film biopic about late jazz singer Nina Simone.

The casting of Ms. Saldana, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, to play Simone, who was famously proud of her African roots, sparked harsh criticism from Simone’s family and calls for a boycott against the film “Nina.” Simone’s daughter, actress and singer Lisa Simone Kelly, told The New York Times in 2012 that she respected Ms. Saldana but was disappointed by the casting decision. Simone’s brother, Sam Waymon, said Ms. Saldana’s casting was “raping Nina’s legacy,” because her skin wasn’t dark enough. The verified Twitter account for Simone’s estate told Ms. Saldana directly to “take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”

But that wasn’t enough to deter Ms. Saldana from donning facial prosthetics and dark makeup to portray the iconic singer and civil rights activist. After nearly five years of drama, the film finally released in April without much fanfare.

In an interview for Allure’s July issue, Ms. Saldana declared: “There’s no one way to be black.”

“I’m black the way I know how to be,” she said. “You have no idea who I am. I am black. I’m raising black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.

“The script probably would still be lying around, going from office to office, agency to agency, and nobody would have done it,” she continued. “Female stories aren’t relevant enough, especially a black female story. I made a choice. Do I continue passing on the script and hope that the ‘right’ black person will do it, or do I say, ‘You know what? Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing in comparison to the fact that this story must be told.’

SEE ALSO: Zoe Saldana not black enough to play Nina Simone, critics say

“The fact that we’re talking about her, that Nina Simone is trending? We [expletive] won,” Ms. Saldana said. “For so many years, nobody knew who the [expletive] she was. She is essential to our American history. As a woman first, and only then as everything else.

“Let it be the first movie,” she said. “If you think you can do it better, then by all means. Let ours be version number one of ten stories in the next 10 years about the [expletive] iconic person that was Nina Simone.”

Ms. Saldana’s comments didn’t seem to satisfy her critics. The Huffington Post’s culture writer Zeba Blay said the 38-year-old actress missed the mark.

“In a Hollywood landscape where lighter-skinned black women are generally more successful than darker ones, Saldana’s casting stood as a reminder that in Hollywood, not even dark-skinned black women are deemed good enough to play themselves on screen,” Ms. Blay argued. “This is what Saldana has consistently failed to understand about the outcry over her casting: The criticism wasn’t a challenge to her blackness or her talent. It was a challenge to an industry that constantly ignores black woman who look like Nina Simone.”

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