The 42-year-old actor talked to “Pose” creator Steven Canals earlier this week on Instagram about Afro-Latinidad culture and colorism. As part of that conversation, Saldana talked candidly about her role as the singer-songwriter.
“I should have never played Nina. 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,” said the “Avatar” star. “I should have tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman.”
Saldana, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, was widely criticized for being cast as Simone, with many suggesting she was too light-skinned to portray the famed musician. The star ultimately darkened her skin for the role and also wore a prosthetic on her nose. In addition to criticism from the public, Simone’s estate spoke out against Saldana ahead of the film’s release and implored her to “take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”
“Certainly I would not have cast Zoe if I felt she was wrong for the role in a million years,” Mort told BuzzFeed in 2016. “Zoe’s amazing. She’s amazing in the movie. She gave her all. She’s honest, she’s courageous, she’s fierce.”
Saldana told Canals that she took the role because she “thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman, and I am.”
“But it was Nina Simone. And Nina had a life, and she had a journey that should have been and should be honored to the most specific detail. Because she was a specifically detailed individual. About her voice, her views, her music, her opinions and her art. And she was so honest. So she deserved better,” Saldana said through tears.
She added that she was “so sorry” and implored other creators to “step up” to bring Simone’s story justice.
“We’ve been appropriating ourselves with someone like Nina Simone for a very long time, and I just want her story to be told, and I want it to be right because she deserves it,” she said.
“And America deserves it. Because the Americans that inhabit today’s America deserve her story to be told. I know better today, and I’m never going to do that again. Never. I’m learning. I’m still processing it. I’ve been processing it for 10 years, and I think it’s a conversation that I wanna have.”