The writer/director of jazz and blues legend Nina Simone's biopic is suing the film's producers for allegedly cutting her out of the decision-making process. Cynthia Mort spent years developing the project, but claims she was ignored when it came to decision making, and she no longer wants to be associated with a project she doesn't like.
She filed suit in Los Angeles on Wednesday (14May14), alleging executives at Ealing Studios Enterprises Limited had breached the terms of her director deal. She claims she was given approval rights over the final shooting script, the cast and crew and other major players behind the film, and consulting rights on advertising and distribution, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
In her lawsuit, obtained by the publication, her lawyer Howard Weitzman writes, "She worked tirelessly to prepare the Film for a wide and successful commercial release. Yet, throughout the course of the Film's production and post-production, Defendants consistently acted to frustrate Mort's involvement in the Film, thereby breaching the Director Agreement."
Mort is asking for unspecified monetary damages as well as a declaration that the defendants can't make decisions without her. Nina, which features Zoe Saldana as Simone, is one of the films being offered to potential buyers at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Mort's movie was screened at Cannes on Thursday (15May14).
No one can ever fill legendary singer Nina Simone's shoes, so whoever was going to play her in an inevitable biopic had a daunting, if not impossible task to begin with. No matter who was going to be cast would be faced with the questions of, "Can she sing like Nina?" (probably not), "Does she look enough like Nina?" (probably not), "Can she capture the essence of a woman who was a pivotal, important entertainer and figure during the 60s and throughout history?" (probably not).
Actress Zoe Saldana already had the chips stacked against her when she signed on to play the "My Baby Just Cares For Me" crooner, but the backlash was almost immediate. When it was announced that the 34-year-old Star Trek star would take the lead in Nina, a film that chronicles the life and legacy of Simone, there was fury around the Internet that Saldana — a woman of Domincan and Puerto Rican descent — should not be playing the iconic African American artist. (Mary J. Blige was originally attached to the project, but dropped out).
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From an online petition to "replace Zoe Saldana with an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone" (to date, it has over 10,000 supporters) to blog posts calling out Hollywood for giving a "mainstream look" for its black stars, it looked as though Nina (which is being brought to the big screen by Cynthia Mort and also stars David Oyelowo) and Saldana, especially, was becoming a symbol for everything the cultural icon Simone stood against.
Even Simone's own daughter had reservations about the decision, telling Ebony, "As an actress I respect her process, but I also know that there are many actresses out there, known or not, who would be great as my mother. The one actress that I've had in my heart for a very long time, whose work I'm familiar with already, is Kimberly Elise. Many people have spoken to me about Viola [Davis]. I love her look. I love her energy. Both of the actresses that I've mentioned are women of color, are women with beautiful, luscious lips and wide noses, and who know their craft. I also have no problem introducing someone we've never heard of before who can play my mother."
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Saldana, who graces the cover of the May issue of Latina magazine, opened up about the controversy surrounding her casting. Saldana, who said in the cover story interview that the negative response has had an impact on her, plainly stated: "The reality is that nobody knows the story as to why this collaboration came to be — nobody knows the full story — and at the end of the day all I’m going to say is that every person that is a part of this project came together for no other reason than the unconditional love for Nina Simone’s music, her persona, her life, what she did, what she left for us, what her music still continues to do not only to women, but to Americans, and African Americans, and also people of color, just everything. On all spectrums, Nina Simone’s story is worth telling and with the members that it came to be, like it’s just…you have to give it a chance."
Of course, even with the online scrutiny, Hollywood will likely still have her side on this one, in the end: look no further than controversial casting decisions like Oscar-winner Sir Ben Kinglsey in Gandhi for evidence of that. The actress — who also opens up in the piece about her alleged post-Avatar mental breakdown ("That was completely blown out of proportion") — added that the naysayers should "Watch it and then make up your mind" and that she has "no regrets" about making the film and how the long-in-the-works project took shape.
[Photo credit: Latina Magazine]
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After last night's heated Presidential Debates, politically-minded audiences were privy to an extended look of the upcoming Steven Spielberg historical drama Lincoln, a new trailer that showcases Daniel Day-Lewis' impassioned performance. The election context certainly didn't hurt the two minutes of rousing footage, but as Lincoln costar David Oyelowo testifies, timing isn't the reason Day-Lewis' performance is electrifying, even in the small doses of a trailer.
"He’s in character all the time," says Oyelowo, who Hollywood.com caught on Oct. 3 at the red carpet for the New York Film Festival Gala Tribute to Nicole Kidman and the premiere of his new movie The Paperboy. "Literally, acting with him is like going in a time machine. I literally felt like now I’m in 1865 looking at Abraham Lincoln. That’s hard to do. That’s a very rare quality for an actor to have, but he is definitely one of the few ones who can do that."
Oyelowo, who is on the rise after roles in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Help, and Red Tails, stars opposite Day-Lewis as Union Army soldier Ira Clark. For the young actor, it was a dream come true. "I would have made the tea on that set, because Daniel Day-Lewis is my favorite actor of all time, let alone get to work with Steven Spielberg on a film arguably about America’s most famous president. It was an honor."
While Oyelowo admits to being a fan, it was all work when he arrived on set and played opposite the Oscar-winning actor. "He was playing Abraham Lincoln, and then he was that guy the whole time," says Oyelowo. When the cameras weren't rolling, Day-Lewis would maintain Lincoln's posture and voice — a level of dedication Oyelowo describes as "extraordinary."
"What that does, it makes for a very concentrated set. There wasn’t really the space or the time to mess about or anything like that. I like that because we’re dealing with a serious subject matter, with a very serious actor, and a very serious director. So, you better serious up."
Lincoln isn't the last biopic for Oyelowo. The actor is currently starring in The Paperboy director Lee Daniels' upcoming The Butler, the true story of a black butler who served the White House for over three decades. After that, he'll move on to Nina, a much-buzzed-about movie based on the life of singer Nina Simone. The film has already stirred up controversy with the casting of Zoe Saldana as Simone, a move that had bloggers lashing out, and one that even spurred online petitions asking the film's producers to replace Saldana "with an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone."
Standing strong against the negative reaction, Oyelowo endorses Saldana whole-heartedly. "I think, with a character, what you want over the physical aesthetic is the heart of the character," says Oyelowo. "[Zoe] has the strength, the personality, and the force of nature elements that Nina Simone had. I’d rather go for an actress who has that over what people deem to be the physical aesthetic."
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
Reporting from Lindsay DiMattina
[Photo Credit: WENN]
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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
Diane Keaton has been cast in the title role of HBO's upcoming comedy Tilda, which will co-star Ellen Page. Twilight: Breaking Dawn director Bill Condon will produce and direct the half-hour pilot, which he wrote alongside Tell Me You Love Me creator Cynthia Mort.
Tilda tells the story of an influential online Hollywood journalist (Keaton), who becomes a major Hollywood powerbroker with her bold and uncompromising writing style. Page will play Carolyn, Tilda's conflicted creative assistant, who is torn between following a corporate career path with the studio and her loyalty to Tilda, who sees her as a protégé.
Tilda's title character is rumored to be based on real-life Hollywood blogger Nikke Finke, who is the founder and editor-in-chief of Deadline.com, a popular Hollywood news website.
The news comes after nearly two months of negotiations between Keaton and HBO. Filming is slated to begin next month in Los Angeles.
Mary J. Blige once sang about having "no more drama in her life", but it looks like she'll be taking on a lot more of it very soon. The Hollywood Reporter claims that the Grammy winning R&B artist will portray legendary singer, songwriter, musician and activist Nina Simone in the $10 million budgeted Nina, about the life of the performer.
Cynthia Mort will direct the film, which will focus on Simone's relationship with her assistant Clifton Henderson, who will be played by David Oyelowo, backers said. U.K. production, finance and studio facility operator Ealing Studios will finance, produce and sell the film internationally. Production will begin in the fall.
Blige has the personality and skill set needed to portray Simone, an American icon who has been noticeably missing on the silver screen. In my humble opinion, you couldn't ask for a more accomplished individual to take on this responsibility, but what I'm most wary about is the "relationship" angle of the story. It sounds like the producers of the film are taking a similar approach here that was used in 2009's disappointing Amelia, where the story of Mrs. Earheart's globe-spanning adventures took a back seat to the totally uninteresting love triangle that she was a part of. Will we ever see a film about an important female figure that doesn't relegate her to the role of lover? Only time will tell...