Ever since it was reported a few years ago that actress Zoe Saldana would be portraying late blues artist Nina Simone, heavy backlash against the film has been dished out from both longtime fans of the outspoken singer and those who had only recently been introduced to her music and philosophies. The release of the movie, Nina, has been delayed for so long that many doubted it would ever grace the big screen, but now RJL Entertainment has announced that it will be released in theaters in December.
The general consensus among Nina critics is that Saldana, who is Puerto Rican and Dominican with a thin frame and caramel complexion, does not resemble Simone, leading her to wear tons of makeup to darken her skin and don prosthetic facial features to transform her look. Even those within Simone’s family were appalled by the thought of the film, including her daughter, Lisa Simons Kelly, and her niece, star of OWN’s “The Haves and the Have Nots” Crystal Fox.
Fox, who plays Hanna Young on the hit soap opera, said that learning about the film bothered her so much that it left her “immobile.” The actress still has fond memories of her aunt, and although she says she doesn’t fault Saldana, she feels that Simone would think the upcoming film is just another way to “take advantage” of her, even in her death.
“I don’t fault Zoe, because artists want to challenge themselves, so if she took that to challenge herself, how wonderful,” Fox told rolling out in an interview. “What was insulting is that I am in this show business and it felt like the ultimate rejection of everything that my aunt is.”
She mentioned that it was insulting that the filmmakers decided on reconstructing the singer’s features and skin tone rather than just casting a woman who resembles the music legend.
“To get an actress and you have to put things on her face to make her look like this woman? There [are] so many actresses I know that look like [Simone] and embody her that are beautiful,” she said.
The film is about Simone’s years living in France and the relationship between her and a colleague. Fox says that if the story is a romance, which it was rumored to be a few years ago, then that part of it is completely fabricated.
“The director, the writer, whoever, said ‘oh, it’s not about her, it’s just about love letters between her and this other guy.’ I know the guy. That particular guy is gay,” she explained. “I’m not saying that they couldn’t have had anything, but they were not lovers, he was working with her.”
Both Simone’s daughter and Fox have supported the recent documentary on Simone’s life, What Happened, Nina Simone?, with Fox hailing the film as “incredible.” But she still believes her aunt will be “turning in her grave” when Nina is released.
“At first I thought, ‘my aunt would be pissed off,’ ” she admitted. “What she’d say is ‘you still don’t see me, but you’re taking advantage of me and you’re gonna make money off me.’ That’s what she thought, that’s what they did, that’s what they’re doing.
“People loved or they didn’t love my aunt — she was hard. Hard to deal with, hard at times, yes. But that thing right there … it felt like a huge rejection yet again of us as [a] people.”