Zoe Saldana is at the center of a firestorm after the new trailer for Nina— the Nina Simone biopic where the actress portrays the infamous singer was released— appears to show the actress in what some are calling "blackface."
Saldana, who is not of African-American heritage and is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, transformed herself for the role of a lifetime, using make-up to darken her skin and wearing a prosthetic nose for the part.
But some are very upset with the choice to cast the actress known for her performances in Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy and the decision to alter her appearance in what some say is a culturally offensive way.
BET founder Robert L. Johnson, has issued a statement in response to the growing controversy Saldana is facing.
Johnson, who is also the founder of RLJ Entertainment, the company distributing, Nina, said in a statement: “Zoe Saldana delivers an exceptional and mesmerizing tribute to Nina Simone. 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. Quality entertainment should be measured by the sheer force of creativity and the commitment that an actor or actress brings to the performance. We are proud to distribute the film headlined by Zoe Saldana and David Oyelowo on April 22, 2016."
Wendy Williams said on her show on Thursday: "This is just as insulting as a white woman in blackface.”
INSIDE EDITION spoke to Professor Marc Lamont Hill, an expert African American Studies, who said: "I wouldn't go as far as to calling Zoe Saldana's performance 'blackface.' Blackface comes from a long history of racist performances by white actors mocking black people and black culture.
"What she is doing, though, is reflecting a problem in Hollywood— dark-skin people don't get roles, even playing dark-skin people."
But The Talk's Sheryl Underwood supports the actress.
She told IE: "In a time when we are talking about diversity and a time when we should be uplifting each other, we should come together and support Zoe Saldana. She got cast in the part, let's support her. She is doing the best she can."
The movie, which is being released in April, is part of movement of renewed interest in the life of the singer, including two highly-acclaimed documentaries.
One of the two documentaries, What Happened, Miss Simone? was nominated for an Oscar. It lost to the Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy.
Saldana has fiercely defended her right to play the “Don’t Be Misunderstood” singer, who played an active role in the civil rights movement .
"I am doing it for my sisters, I am doing it for my brothers, I don't care who tells me 'I am not this' and 'I am not that.' I know who I am," she told Hip Hollywood.
After the trailer was released she tweeted a memorable Nina Simone quote, writing: "I’ll tell you what freedom is to me... no fear."
To which Simone's estate responded:
.@zoesaldana Cool story but please take Nina's name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.— Nina Simone (@NinaSimoneMusic) March 3, 2016
They also tweeted:
Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing. It shall pass, but for now...— Nina Simone (@NinaSimoneMusic) March 3, 2016
The film, which will look at the singer's classic songs and her turmoil-filled life, is set to be released in April.
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