Are We Being Too Quick to Judge Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone?

PHOTO: Zoe Saldana to play Nina Simone in next movie.

For a Hollywood It girl, Zoe Saldana doesn't have it easy. Despite the fact that she's worked with everyone from James Cameron to Luc Besson to J.J. Abrams, and her roles seem to be getting meatier, she isn't exactly embraced by all.

Sure, she has great style and is always a darling on the red carpet (she even runs her own fashion website, but beyond that, people always seem to find something to criticize, starting with her weight. Take Bossip's story "Super Slimmy Trimmy: Is Zoe Saldana Wasting Away Into A Bulimic Betty?".

If it's not her weight, it's her skin tone, or her portrayal of Latinos (Colombiana, anyone?). At least we seem to have moved beyond the era of picking on biracial relationships, so no one seemed to have a problem with her dating Bradley Cooper.

Saldana's divisive nature seems to have reached an all-time high with the news in August that she had been cast as Nina Simone in an untitled movie about the legendary jazz singer's life.

From the get-go, I knew it wouldn't be easy for people to accept Saldana in the role, but I wonder if the extent of the opposition to her portrayal of The High Priestess of Soul is a bit unfair.

If you visit Nina Simone's official fan page on Facebook, you'll see there is no shortage of vitriol toward the movie and the choice of Saldana as its female lead. Mostly the criticism deals with Hollywood's "whitewashing" of the real Nina Simone, and the artistic liberties the script appears to be taking when choosing to focus not on certain aspects of Simone's career and life (like her civil rights activism) but rather in telling the story of her relationship with Clifton Henderson, a nurse she met at a psychiatric hospital in California during her struggles with alcoholism in the 90s, after which she settled in France until she died in 2003 at age 70.

Indiewire actually read and dissected the script, which apparently holds some promise.

A classic example of a Facebook comment on Nina Simone's fan page, from user Princess Latifah: "I am more outraged at people telling us that there is nothing to be outraged about. Are you freaking kidding me??? This film is a typical standard of Hollywood trying to gentrify, and whitewash black people and black history. Nina Simone's skin tone was a central core in everything she was about, and a central core of everything she faced, so to put a lightskinned latina with european features in blackface for her role is a slap in the face to her legacy."

New photos from the set of the movie have only fueled the fire. In them, Saldana is seen wearing a nose prosthetic and skin-darkening make-up, in a seemingly futile attempt to resemble the real Nina more accurately.

It's not that there aren't other black actresses out there who can play the part, and it's not like those actresses don't have legitimate bones to pick. Take Taraji P. Henson, an Oscar-nominated black actress (and one of my favorites), who, as one of the three leads in the CBS show Person Of Interest, was left off all of the marketing materials and promo efforts. Henson made a big stink about it - as well she should.

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