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'Nina' Director Addresses Zoe Saldana's Black Face and Wanting Mary J Blige for Lead Role

by Wanda J Coppage   Apr 20, 2016 14:39 PM EDT

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With the heavily criticized Nina Simone biopic hitting theaters on Friday April 22, the director of the film, Cynthia Mort, has decided to speak out against some of the film's recent backlash. During an interview, Mort addressed the criticism surrounding Zoe Saldana being cast in the project and wearing black face make-up, and she also points out how she initially wanted Mary J. Blige to play the lead role.

Mort revealed plenty about how Nina went from an idea in her head to a completed film production set to hit theaters on April 22 during her Buzz Feed feature story. She described how in awe she was of Simone and her talents, how enjoyable it was to spend a full day with the vocalist and more importantly, how the film took 11 years to be fully developed and completed to her liking. But, unfortunately for Mort, none of what she mentioned answered the questions that many of the film's critics already have about the project before it even has a chance to be released.

Why did she choose Saldana to portray Simone in the first place? Why is Saldana portrayed in black face make-up during the film? If Saldana was the right choice for the film, then shouldn't how she looks naturally should suffice for the role? These are the questions that nay-sayers want answered and Mort, speaking from a director's stance, addressed the criticism.

The hunt to find the right person to portray Simone was not an easy task, explained Mort. They needed someone that was able to portray the "Four Women" singer as a young woman and into her old age. They also needed someone who was able to bring to life three important characteristics of Simone's personality - danger, recklessness and fierceness.

"Certainly I would not have cast Zoe if I felt she was wrong for the role in a million years. Zoe's amazing. She's amazing in the movie," Mort said. "She gave her all. She's honest, she's courageous, she's fierce."

As for being "too light-skinned" to play the role, as described in a EUR article, Mort explained why they chose to darken Saldana's skin.

"It's a narrative film," explained Mort "You help your actor inhabit a character any way that you can. Just as Nicole Kidman put on Virginia Woolf's nose, or Leo (Leonardo DiCaprio) did his J. Edgar Hoover makeup. I understand the issue of race. And color is a sensitive issue. But at the same time, it is a movie. And it is an actor. And everyone is doing their best to find the truth in that."

The director also spoke on how the film needed to have a big named celebrity attached to it in order to gain funding. Initially, that big name was that of R&B/Soul singer Mary J. Blige. Though both Blige and Mort were excited to go forward with the production, Blige's schedule was not accommodating enough to make it work.

"Mary is an incredible woman," Mort expressed about Blige. "She really is. She's very moving, very talented. I spent a lot of time with her. But she was very, very busy."

Nevertheless, the show must go on and on April 22, viewers, supporters and critics will finally get the opportunity to see the film in its entirety.

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