For many of us, Nina Simone is nothing less than a goddess. Her music informs our lives (see: "Wild is the Wind," "Feelin' Good," "Pirate Jenny, "Mississippi Goddamn," etc, etc), her courage inspires us, we name our daughters for her, wallpaper our homes with her regal face in profile. The announcement of the casting of Mary J. Blige a few years ago, and more recently of Zoe Saldana, have been met by emotional outrage by those who truly know the meaning and the movement of Nina Simone because for us, she's more than a singer, she's a heroine. And when it comes to our history and our heroines, Hollywood gets it wrong far more often then right.
Nina Simone’s only daughter, an accomplished Broadway actress (Aida, Lion’s King, Rent) and vocalist who goes by simply 'Simone,' has made it her business to be a dutiful gatekeeper to her mother's legacy for many years. She engages with Nina fans via the official Nina Simone website and Facebook page and has lovingly performed her mother's classic tunes across the world. Last week, Simone took to Facebook to reply to the hundreds of concerned fans who’d been asking her thoughts on the recent casting announcement. Here she elaborates on that, the film's problematic script and what it means to be the heir to "the High Priestess of Soul."
EBONY: Can you clarify your feelings about the casting of Zoe Saldana to play your mother?
Simone: I love Zoe Saldana’s work. I’ve seen some of her movies more than once and really enjoy what she brings to the screen. As an actress I respect her process, but I also know that there are many actresses out there, known or not, who would be great as my mother. The one actress that I’ve had in my heart for a very long time, whose work I’m familiar with already, is Kimberly Elise. Many people have spoken to me about Viola. I love her look. I love her energy. Both of the actresses that I’ve mentioned are women of color, are women with beautiful, luscious lips and wide noses, and who know their craft. I also have no problem introducing someone we’ve never heard of before who can play my mother.
EBONY: This project that’s going forward, you’ve talked about having little to nothing to do with it. How does that happen?
S: I’ve been asking myself that question. How does that happen? As I said on my blog, when the announcement came out approximately six years ago that Mary J. Blige had been cast to play Nina Simone, I heard it along with everyone else and I was very concerned. How does someone just decide to do a story about someone and completely bypass family? Completely bypass her representatives? We offered to get involved with all the stuff that we have, from the music, to the pictures, to her writings, to connecting them with the stories of many people who were close to my mother, and we were ignored.
If any of us tried to take the story of Bing Crosby or, Dean Martin, or Frank Sinatra, or Elvis Presley and turn it into something that was a tall tale based on something that never happened, I doubt that we’d get very far.
EBONY: Do you hold the rights to any of your mother’s music?
S: Some of the music. When my mom passed away, as her only child, I had no idea who the heroes were, who the monsters were. I realized just how protected I was when the queen was alive. When I stepped into my mother’s shoes and became the gatekeeper of her legacy, there were many people coming at me with regards to many things. There are some rights that are owned by me. There are some rights that are not.
EBONY: Have you been in touch with Cynthia Mort, the director? I’m wondering if you’ve had any contact with her, particularly in relationship to your concerns about the scope of the script. Your Facebook update said the script focuses on the last 8 years of her life.
S: I talked with Cynthia once, about a year and a half ago. It was very emotional for me to just get on the phone with her because there were so many questions in my mind. So I asked a good friend of mine to join us on the call with me to keep it grounded. I asked her if her mother was still alive. I asked her if she still had a good relationship with her mother and she sounded like a really nice lady. She really, really believes in what she’s doing. I do remember saying to her that if any of us tried to take the story of Bing Crosby or, Dean Martin, or Frank Sinatra, or Elvis Presley and turn it into something that was a tall tale based on something that never happened, I doubt that we’d get very far. My mother’s life was tragic enough. My mother suffered enough. Her life is full of enough