2016 will see the release of at least two long-awaited musical biopics for artists that should have had several films made about their lives already. Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle‘s long-awaited take on Miles Davis and the jazz legend’s struggles to own his music, has already seen marginal release via film festivals – New York Film Festival premiered it last October, and it played at the Berlin Film Festival last month – and will be released in theaters nationwide later this year. Before that, however, the long-gestating biopic of Nina Simone, entitled simply Nina, will be released on April 22nd, with Avatar actress Zoe Saldana in the role of the famous jazz singer/songwriter and outspoken civil rights activist.
If you’ve been following the ups and downs of this film’s long road to the big screen, you’ll know that the entire production has been a beleaguered one, to put it lightly. Mary J. Blige was attached to star as Simone back in 2011, but had to drop out of the film due to other obligations in her career. That’s a real shame, as having Blige in the role would not only fulfill the basic tenants of the role in the narrative but would also give the film a reflexive backbone, a vision of Blige considering both Simone’s trajectory as an artist in life as well as her own as a popular singer and songwriter. In contrast, Saldana’s casting in the role has been largely seen as borderline whitewashing, as the actress is of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, while also considered quite light-skinned as compared to Simone.
The first trailer for the film, which you can take a look at below, attests that Saldana put the full weight of her talents into the role, even if she doesn’t fit many of the requirements that people have given to any film depicting Simone. There’s also been a bit of an uproar over the poster for the film, which you can see below the trailer, as it would seem that Saldana’s skin was darkened via photo-editing software to make her look more like Simone. These are questionable decisions, to be sure, but we’ll have to wait to see the movie in its entirety to see if this has truly betrayed Simone’s legacy.
Nina is written and directed by first-timer Cynthia Mort, and will star Mike Epps as Richard Pryor, David Oyelowo, Ronald Guttman, and Ella Thomas.