‘She deserved better’: Zoe Saldana apologizes for playing Nina Simone, breaks down in tears

Zoe Saldana says Nina Simone “deserved better” than her controversial portrayal of the  famed jazz singer in the 2016 biopic “Nina.”

During a virtual interview with “Pose” creator Steven Canals for the platform Bese, Saldana broke down in tears while opening up about her controversial role.

“I should have never played Nina,” Saldana, 42, said Monday. “I should have done everything in my power with the leverage that I had 10 years ago – which was a different leverage but it was leverage nonetheless – I should have tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman.”

Watch the first trailer for the controversial Nina Simone biopic

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Saldana, who identifies as Afro-Latina with a Dominican father and Puerto Rican mother, faced massive backlash for opting to play Simone over a dark-skinned, wide-nosed actress, an underrepresented group commonly marginalized in Hollywood.

For the role of Simone – an unapologetically Black musician who battled racial discrimination throughout her career – Saldana wore a prosthetic nose, false teeth and dark makeup, which raised more concerns of blackface and colorism. 

Even Simone’s daughter, Simone Kelly, had an issue with Saldana’s casting. “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise this is not the best choice,” Kelly told the New York Times in 2012.

Zoe Saldana addresses Nina Simone biopic controversy

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Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in a scene from, 'Nina.'

After a process of evolution and personal growth, and the reemergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Saldana said she now understands why her casting was problematic and “know(s) better today.”

“I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman,” Saldana told Canals Monday. “And I am. But, it’s Nina. And Nina had a life and a journey that should be honored to the specific detail… she deserved better.”

An emotional Saldana apologized for letting down Simone, an idol of hers: “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry because I love her music.”

The “Avatar” star said she hopes someone better suited for the role will get the chance to do Simone’s story justice. 

“We’ve been appropriating ourselves with someone like Nina Simone for a very long time,” Saldana said through tears. “And I just want her story to be told and I want it to be right because she deserves it.”

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