In her "open letter to anyone who cares about Nina Simone," Aaron Overfield writes that the forthcoming unauthorized biopic of the seriously unparalleled Simone is a sham she'd have despised—and that it should be stopped. Simone's daughter doesn't support it.
Still, it began filming this month, according to reports, and among the controversial decisions by first-time director Cynthia Mort is her choice of starlet Zoe Saldana to play Nina. Mary J. Blige was on tap, but dropped out. Other actors involved include emerging genius David Oyelowo, but he's playing her straight love interest, when in reality his character was an out gay man. Curious choice for a queer director as Mort is, Overfield points out.
There's the question of Saldana's appearance. A Change.org petition has already been circulated calling for her removal.
There's the question of whether a white woman is the right choice to direct the first-ever biopic about Nina Simone. If you know anything about Nina Simone, the answer to that is pretty clear: Um, no. It's not that white folks can't make biopics about black folks. Let's not get all simple and shouty. But for the very first Nina Simone biopic after her death, and NINA SIMONE, the firebrand racial justice fighter to the end who never minced words about the way white culture and white people tried to cruelly dominate her life and world but she would never let them because FUCK THAT? And given all these distortions? I'm with Overfield: It's just not right.
From his letter:
The discussions of the issues are as complex as they are controversial; however, they are important conversations to have and keep having. The most frustrating people are the ones who imply everyone should just shut up and “wait and see” or “leave them alone.” That kind of attitude and oppression is not in the spirit of Nina Simone whatsoever. Quite the opposite. Nina was vocal, defiant, a warrior, an activist. She would not have simply shut up and sat down. She would’ve shown up at the studio with a shotgun to speak with Ms. Mort and slapped the makeup off Zoe. So let’s get that straight first. We’re going to talk about this and those of us with strong, impassioned opinions are going to express them. ...
The script...is based in a series of lies. That is our starting point.
If this movie does get made, which it looks absolutely likely that it will, may we all spend the time we would have used to see it reading Simone's autobiography I Put A Spell On You, available now on the shelves of Elliott Bay Books.