‘Nina’, the new biopic about Nina Simone starring Zoe Saldana, was getting slated even before critics had seen it.
Many, including the estate of Nina Simone, reacted badly to the casting of 'Avatar’ and 'Star Trek’ actress Saldana, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican origin, in the lead role, accusing the filmmakers of putting their star in 'blackface’ to play the legendary singer.
In both the trailer and posters for the film, she appeared to have been given a prosthetic nose and had her skin darkened with make-up.
When Saldana defended herself with a direct quote from Simone - 'I’ll tell you what freedom is to me - No Fear… I mean really, no fear’ – custodians of her estate, NinaSimoneMusic spat back on Twitter: “Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”
And now critics have seen the movie, it appears to be open season.
So far, the movie is getting hammered by critics as 'misconceived’, one reviewer calling it 'unforgivable’.
Variety’s Andrew Barker writes: “Simone was surely a difficult person, but she was also a sublime musical genius, and her worldview was undeniably shaped by years of cruel racism and an abusive marriage, the latter dispatched here with a single line of dialogue. In 'Nina’, she risks coming across as a simple finicky diva: drunk, rude and prone to slashing loud-talking nightclub patrons with a cheese knife.
“The casting of Zoe Saldana is scarcely the only problematic element of Cynthia Mort’s misconceived Nina Simone biopic.”
Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter was no more impressed.
“It’s not the biographical film this stupendous, if mightily troubled, musical and political figure deserved, especially coming in the immediate wake of Liz Garbus’ riveting documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? last year,” he writes.
“Trying to create a satisfying portrait of a volcanic personality whose life and career were so complex and overflowing with personal, artistic and political import was probably a fool’s errand.”
On The Wrap, Dan Callahan called the movie 'infuriatingly amateurish’.
“First time writer-director Cynthia Mort… unforgivably exploits Simone’s memory and name with a movie that plays like a sketch comedy parody of the worst possible Nina Simone biopic. No one involved seems to have a clue who Simone was or what she stood for,” he writes.
“'Nina’ is an affront that should be shunned. If you are unfortunate enough to see 'Nina’, you will need to spend a lot of time afterward listening to the real Simone on records and YouTube and anywhere else you can find a place where her intensely moving voice still lives.”
David Erlich on IndieWire adds: “We’re told that Simone gets back on stage because 'She has to deliver the truth again’, but the film that Mort has made about her never feels remotely determined to do the same.”
The movie centres on the relationship between Simone and her manager Clifton Henderson, played by David Oyelowo.
Out in the US next week, there’s no confirmed release date yet for the UK.
Image credits: RLJ Entertainment/AP