Aaron Overfield, website content manager for ninasimone.com composed a scathing open letter to the actress and the film’s director, Cynthia Mort, for the yet to be seen “disrespectful portrayal of Nina Simone.”
Yikes, he’s not playing either.
First of all, he writes that Nina Simone is much more than what the film is about to be, especially since the creators of the film didn’t consult any of the singer’s family members. Beyond that, he says the manner in which the film is being handled is sloppy, and does not reflect Nina Simone’s philosophy.
The discussions of the issues are as complex as they are controversial; however, they are important conversations to have and keep having. The most frustrating people are the ones who imply everyone should just shut up and “wait and see” or “leave them alone.” That kind of attitude and oppression is not in the spirit of Nina Simone whatsoever. Quite the opposite. Nina was vocal, defiant, a warrior, an activist. She would not have simply shut up and sat down. She would’ve shown up at the studio with a shotgun to speak with Ms. Mort and slapped the makeup off Zoe. So let’s get that straight first. We’re going to talk about this and those of us with strong, impassioned opinions are going to express them.
He went on to express how Zoe physically doesn’t fit the part, noting her lighter skin complexion and not so African features, calling the casting choice a “gentrification of Nina Simone.”
Zoe’s complexion (the level of her “blackness”) has taken the forefront in the discussion. Her complexion as well as her phenotype/features. We’re going to have to address this since obviously it is dominating the outcry against this project, understandably so. However, I believe this issue is a byproduct of the much, much larger issue: the total gentrification of Nina Simone. This occurred at the inception of this film so it’s no wonder the script and casting have come to symbolize the total fictionalization of Nina as a person and as an artist.
The script, written by Latin American writer and first time director Cynthia Mort, is based in a series of lies. That is our starting point. Cynthia calls this her “artistic license.” Under that umbrella what Cynthia is implying is that she can pretty much do whatever the hell she wants and she doesn’t have to listen to anyone. Cynthia has focused her story on Nina’s relationship with her personal assistant, Clifton Henderson, himself a controversial person in Nina’s life. Well before Nina’s death, before talks about a movie, there were issues expressed about Clifton’s intentions regarding Nina and his efforts to seemingly keep her isolated. He was around Nina for the last few years of her life. He can be seen with her in a filming of Nina’s concert in Brazil in 2000, during shots of Nina being interviewed in a boat (http://vimeo.com/ninasimone/livebrazil).
After Nina’s death, Clifton sold his story to Cynthia and that became the basis for the movie. So, a (controversial) personal assistant’s relationship with Nina Simone for the very last few years of her life somehow became the focal point of the first ever Nina Simone movie. Moreover, that controversial relationship became fictionalized by Cynthia Mort by her writing the relationship as a romantic one (putting Nina in the role as sexual aggressor and as emotionally needy).
There’s more. Lots more. Read the full letter here.