The studio responsible for the distribution of the upcoming Nina Simone biopic has released a statement supporting lead actress Zoe Saldana, Indiewire reports.
Following continuing backlash from fans who found the use of darker makeup on the actress troubling, RLJ Entertainment CEO Robert Johnson released a statement supporting Saldana’s work in Nina. On Thursday, Johnson said he wants moviegoers to absorb Saldana’s performance as the iconic singer, not focus on the elements of her appearance.
“Zoe Saldana delivers an exceptional and mesmerizing tribute to Nina Simone,” Johnson’s statement reads. “She gave her heart and soul to the role and displayed her extraordinary talent.
The most important thing is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on the basis of color, or ethnicity, or physical likeness. Quality entertainment should be measured by the sheer force of creativity and the commitment that an actor or actress brings to the performance.”
Saldana, who is Afro-Latina, was cast in the film back in 2012, against the wishes of the Simone family. Original choice, singer Mary J. Blige, dropped out over scheduling conflicts in 2010. Johnson, who is also the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), says the film will be released regardless of the backlash.
Fans have repeatedly thrown out names such as Viola Davis, Indie Aire, Uzo Aduba and Danai Gurira, who have the looks and the talent to play one of the world’s most celebrated singers.
The Simone estate continued to distance themselves from the film. After Saldana tried to salvage the controversy by quoting the late artist on Twitter, the estate asked her to “take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.” The estate continued to grieve over the film on Twitter, calling it “painful.”
Simone’s family members are also speaking out against the film. According to TMZ, her brother Sam Waymon said the casting of Saldana is “raping Nina’s legacy.”
Sam says “painting up” a light-skinned actress is insulting, and “raping Nina’s legacy.” Nina was a civil rights activist, and Sam says there are plenty of qualified dark-skinned actresses who could have pulled off the role … like Viola Davis or India Arie.
Nina will highlight the relationship between Simone and her former nurse-turned-manager Clifton Henderson, played by David Oyelowo. Simone met Henderson during her recluse journey to France in the later years of her career. The talented singer was known for her strong stage presence and her prolific stance on social activism during the Civil Rights Movement.
Nina will be released in theaters and video-on-demand April 22.