After all the upset and furore it caused, the Nina Simone biopic was released with barely a whimper. Zoe Saldana was criticised, ridiculed and chastised for portraying the late legendary singer creating a rather large buzz around the project. However, rather than capitalise on the controversy, the film studio gave little promotion or announcement when the film actually hit cinemas.
Well, to say "hit" might be an exaggeration because Nina, directed by Cynthia Mort, received a very limited release and was only available in select cinemas in the US before going straight to video-on-demand (VOD). One spectator commented on Twitter: "No theatre release for that Nina Simone movie???" while another said: "I don't see any promotions or interviews for that tragedy 'Nina Simone' movie. Guess they're doing a quiet release and moving on."
Did the negative attention actually damage Nina so much that even the studio distanced itself?
From previous knowledge, Nina was always intended for limited release perhaps after years of constant scrutiny over the casting choices. Saldana, 37, bore the brunt of criticism with many pointing out that the Avatar actress bears little resemblance to the real-life figure. Aside from the glaringly obvious contrast in skin tones, Saldana's other physical features, such as her nose, are remarkably different to Simone's.
This prompted the cosmetics team to create prosthetics for Saldana to wear in the film but the poor result of this is what really ground the nerves of critics.
It is this make-up job that riled critics the most. One commented on Twitter: "It's the fact that they have to darken her skin and broaden her nose, when those are the reasons that Nina Simone was held back musically," while another said: "Zoe Saldana playing Nina is the CLOSEST to whitewashing without a white person. Equivalent to getting a white man to play Michael Jackson." Many others likened it to Saldana wearing 'blackface'.
The general consensus amongst the naysayers questioned why a darker-skinned actress wasn't chosen for the role. However, Hollywood spoof king Marlon Wayans, who created the Scary Movie franchise and most recently the parody Fifty Shades Of Black, told IBTimes UK that the flack Saldana received was unwarranted.
Wayans said: "You can't win for losing. I'm black, I was born black. I will say this about our people: 'Please, support each other.' Don't go to public forums and bring down a woman of colour for trying to portray another woman of colour. White people don't do that. They don't go: 'There's no way on earth Michael Fassbender should play Steve Jobs.'"
The 43-year-old actor, who is part of the Wayans family dynasty, also pointed out that most commentators were judging Saldana's performance without having seen the movie. He continued: "To tear down Zoe Saldana in public forum, I just don't agree with that approach... I feel bad when I read those things about Zoe and I just think: 'You didn't even see the movie'. Granted, it's a terrible make-up job... But still, don't tear her down."
Regardless of whether Saldana did a good job of portraying the music legend or not, Wayans believes the negative attention she attracted shone light on the issue of the black community supporting the entertainment industry – or lack thereof. He explained: "Don't find reasons though not to and then you go: 'Why are the Oscars so white?' Well, because every time we put black people in the movie, you've got something to say. Just go to the theatre and put your money up and support the film so we can make more films."
In relation to the Nina biopic specifically, the other problem is that – if the reviews are to be believed – it just wasn't a good enough movie. Variety wrote that Nina "falls into the trap of so many recent music biopics, which seek to correct for the rose-tinted hagiographies of yore by focusing heavily on famous subjects' selfishness, addictions and flaws".
The Guardian notes: "A 'black-faced' Zoe Saldana is commanding in her portrayal of the High Priestess of Soul, but the movie relies too heavily on cheap shots." And there are many more in a similar vein.
Even if Nina did not do justice to the incredibly fascinating story of the music legend, there's a good chance it would have generated more excitement had it received a wider release. With a cast list that boasts relatively strong leads from Saldana and David Oyelowo, the release shouldn't have been as uneventful as it was. One can only hope that future biopics will be saved from a similar fate.