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Nina Simone distributor defends Zoe Saldana casting

The distributor behind the controversial new Nina Simone biopic has jumped to the defence of its star Zoe Saldana.
Zoe is portraying the late singer in the upcoming movie Nina, directed by Cynthia Mort, but her casting has upset fans from the beginning amid concerns the actress, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, looks nothing like African-American Nina.
The first trailer for the film was released on Wednesday (02Mar16), and Zoe marked the occasion by posting a quote from the singer and activist on Twitter.com. “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me – No Fear… I mean really, no fear,” it read.
The trailer footage, which appeared to show Zoe using make-up to darken her skin tone, and the star’s promotional tweet was apparently not welcomed by the Simone estate, with the verified Twitter account @NinaSimoneMusic replying: “Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”
The Guardians of the Galaxy star has yet to comment on the renewed backlash, but the film’s distributor and Black Entertainment Television (BET) founder, Robert L. Johnson, is standing firmly by the actress.
“Zoe Saldana delivers an exceptional and mesmerizing tribute to Nina Simone,” reads a statement issued by Johnson to People.com. “She gave her heart and soul to the role and displayed her extraordinary talent.
“The most important thing is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on the basis of color, or ethnicity, or physical likeness.”
Nina’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, has previously expressed her reservations about film bosses’ casting decision.
“My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark,” she told the New York Times back in 2012. “Appearance-wise this is not the best choice.”
However, the 37-year-old was unfazed by the criticism and defended her choice to take on the role in 2013, telling HipHollywood.com, “What keeps me focused and what kept me from getting stressed and hurt by the comments is (that) I’m doing this for my sisters. I’m doing it for my brothers. I don’t care who tells me I’m not this and that. I know who I am. I know what Nina Simone means to me. That is my truth and that is what set me free.
“I did it out of love,” she continued. “Out of love for Nina. Out of love for my people. For who I am. My pride of being a Black woman. A Latina woman. An American woman. That’s my truth.”

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