Some fans are wondering why someone like Viola Davis isn't playing Nina Simone. Mary J. Blige was originally cast as Nina Simone, but dropped out due to scheduling, per the movie's screenwriter, Cynthia Mort. In this Rolling Stone article from 2010, Blige seemed excited about the role: "Playing a character like Nina Simone is playing myself," she said, "because Nina Simone was a manic depressive, drug addict, alcoholic, cursing wild maniac that I was, but very talented, so people would get that."
Nina's daughter, a Broadway actress who goes by the name Simone, regularly appears on her mother's Facebook fan page and even wrote a letter voicing her discontent with the Nina Simone project. She's also been giving interviews, like this one with dream hampton for Ebony, in which she's quoted as saying: "How does someone just decide to do a story about someone and completely bypass family? Completely bypass her representatives? We offered to get involved with all the stuff that we have, from the music, to the pictures, to her writings, to connecting them with the stories of many people who were close to my mother, and we were ignored."
Fan Demerise Valier from Baton Rouge, LA even started a petition on Change.org back in August asking the filmmakers to cast someone else as the lead in the film. So far, there are some 8,000 signatures of the 500,000 goal. "For too long Hollywood has gotten away with this practice of revisionist history and it is time that we let our voices be heard, be it by this petition or by boycotting the movie if no change has been made as to who will portray Nina Simone. This is not a diss to Zoe Saldana. She is an excellent actress, but this movie role so much bigger than her undeniable talent," the petition reads.
But Mort (who is white) believes strongly in the project, describing it not so much as a strict biopic but rather as a story about Nina Simone's artistic journey. She told EW: "Any creative decision is difficult…I feel very strong about it [the project] in every way. I feel like we're honoring her, Nina Simone."
Not everyone in the black community is upset about the casting choice. Singer/actress Jill Scott, for instance, came to Saldana's defense earlier this month: "Zoe is an incredible actress," she told Hello Beautiful. "I think that there should be some work done, like a prosthetic nose would be helpful and definitely some darker makeup. If Forest Whittaker can become darker in "The Last King Of Scotland" then I believe Nina should be treated with that respect. She was very adamant about her color about her nose about her shape and her self and there needs to be some homage paid to that."
The blog Racialicious took a different, valid approach back in August, when it pointed out that maybe the problem is not so much who is playing Nina Simone, but something much bigger. "I'm not surprised that black women have busied themselves with the question of who will "play" the role of Nina Simone (Zoe Saldana vs. dark-skinned black actresses) rather than focus on the root cause of misrepresentation in Hollywood: the absence of a strong network of black writers, producers, and studios."