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India Arie Saddened by Zoe Saldana’s Nina Simone Biopic

Zoe Saldana India Arie
RLJ Entertainment / Jason Merritt, Getty Images

The social media chatter and criticisms toward the producers involved in the making of the Nina Simone biopic Nina is deafening to say the least. India Arie is the latest celebrity to jumped into the fray and shed some light on the problematic issues with the film itself.

As we previously reported, people are outrage after seeing the Nina trailer, which features Zoe Saldana wearing dark makeup and a prosthetic nose to make her look like the late soul icon. The film’s distributor, RLJ Entertainment, issued a statement defending the casting of Saldana but it hasn’t quell the backlash.

Arie was one of the first people to object to the decision of casting Saldana after on-set photos of the 37-year-old actress in dark makeup surfaced on the internet in 2012. The singer wrote an open letter to the producers urging them to re-cast the role.

In an interview with Billboard, the R&B chanteuse revealed that she had seen an early rough cut of the film and was saddened by what she watched. She puts the blame on the director and the producers of the film for not presenting the late soul icon in a dignified way.

“It made me sad. The way she looked in the movie was ugly,” she explained. “Whether or not Nina Simone was beautiful in your eyes, I thought she was beautiful. But in this movie, she just looked weird. Her skin looked weird, and her nose looked weird. It made me wonder, was that how the filmmakers see her? Did they not think she was beautiful? Were they like, “Yeah, we got it! That’s how she looked.”

Arie also said that Saldana should not be vilified for playing Nina Simone.

“I don’t know her and I don’t think she did anything wrong,” she says. “If I were in her shoes and I admired Nina Simone the way that I hear she does, I would have said yes, too, and I don’t even think I can act. If they asked me to sing Nina Simone, I got that. But I never pursued it because I felt it was not my place.

“And I don’t know if it was her place to do that,” she adds. “I think they cast Zoe Saldana because they wanted a big name, but that makes me ask, ‘Is the name Nina Simone not big enough to get people to come to the movie?'”

The Grammy-winning songstress also understands the outrage over the Nina biopic. Simone’s forthright musical reflections and what she represented to the black community — both in skin color and gender — touched so many lives, including Arie herself. Arie believes the film doesn’t represent Simone’s legacy properly.

“I loved her music and the fact that she was a classically trained pianist and that her voice was so unique,” she says. “But what made Nina Simone my hero is that I had never seen anyone in the public eye who looked anything like me at all, ever. When you think about the way that we as human beings can inspire each other by being able to be our authentic selves, to deny someone who looks like Nina Simone the opportunity to play her is sad.”

“It would have been important and impactful had they made a movie about Nina Simone where the actress really looked like her,” she continued. “It would have changed someone’s life, I think. She changed my life just by looking the way she looked.”

You can read the entire interview with India Aria at

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